Reflections during a four-month stay in South America

A blog: Messages posted on Facebook

    -- Howard Culbertson

Quito, Ecuador

Friday, January 9, 2009
We arrived last night about 11 p.m. and got off the plane and out of the airport in a light rain. We're staying in an apartment on the campus of the Seminario Teologico Nazareno (people refer to it in English as "the seminary," but it doesn't seem to be what we think of as a graduate school). This morning it was foggy early but by 8 the fog had lifted and there were just some clouds around. I'm looking at the mountains outside the window. I took a walk around the perimeter of the campus. It's not real big. We're to be picked up about 1 o'clock to go grocery shopping and whatever else. . .

Second semester hasn't yet classes have not started, so the buildings are very empty.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Last night we had the wonderful privilege of being with a Quechua Indian pastor and two of his kids for about an hour. We had gone to the Nazarene Mission Team housing to eat supper with a team that is here from Missouri. The pastor is an arts and crafts artisan who derives quite a bit of his livelihood from the sale of what he makes. He made the two-hour bus trip from his village to Quito with his two youngest kids and quite a bit of stuff to sell to the Americans. We sat with him and the two children at supper and then he made quite a few sales after supper. The pastor and his kids were dressed in traditional Quechua clothing and seemed to struggle with some of the "gringo" food they were being offered. But we laughed and joked with them. We asked about his family and even learned that there's an Italian immigrant living in his village who was recently elected mayor.

Eventually, the team went off to a missionary's home for a devotional/debriefing time. We were waiting for a ride. So, we helped a bit with cleanup and then we were left there for about an hour with that pastor and his two kids. Though Quechua is his mother tongue, he can also communicate in Spanish (not our mother tongue either). There was a guitar in the room. So, he picked it up and sang some songs in Quechua. He told us that we needed to learn Quechua in addition to Spanish. He tried teaching us several phrases. He even had a Quechua Bible and he coached Barbara into reading John 3:16-17 from it. It was one of those wonderful times you could not have planned.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Yesterday evening I heard singing in the seminario chapel and thought I would wander across the campus to see what was going on. As I approached the building, a man standing outside called my name. It was Jean David Larochelle, a Haitian that I met a decade or more ago in Caracas, Venezuela when I was there one summer doing some leadership training in Haitian immigrant churches.

Jean David is now the academic dean of the seminario here in Ecuador. He's also a church planter! They started a congregation not too long ago in the chapel on campus and are now running about 140. He said it was an international church with people from Ecuador, Colombia, Haiti and . . . well, I cannot remember where all they're from. He said he'd be preaching this morning in both Haitian Creole and Spanish. We're going to go there for Sunday worship. So, we'll get a chance to hear the sermon twice! We'll understand more of it in Creole, but that may also help us understand some of the Spanish.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Quito is at 9,000 feet. I haven't noticed too many affectcs of the altitude on me and neither has Barbara (although she suffers from asthma). This city is the world's highest "legal" capital although Bolivia boasts the world's highest "administrative" capital in the city of La Paz (I'm not very clear on the difference between legal and administrative capitals).

The Church of the Nazarene has seen great growth here in the past two decades. Missionaries Dwight and Carolyn Rich told us that when they came in 1983 there were 10 Nazarene churches with a total of about 400 members. Today there are more than 12,000 members in about 180 churches. I'm not very good at math but that has to be an impressive annual growth rate! God is at work here.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I met our Spanish teacher yesterday. She seemed pleased that I could banter a little bit with her. Saturday we'll have individual oral/written evaluations to determine our level and then classes start Monday. Yesterday we bought a small television to help with our language study. We'll use it to have Spanish blaring in our ears a lot of the time that we're home.

The strangest vegetable we've seen thus far are huge, long green seed pods which I assume are from trees. They look like the seed pods from the catalpa trees on the SNU campus except that they're about two feet long and two to three inches wide. They have black beans in them that are the size of squashed jawbreakers. I haven't yet found out how they eat them (raw or cooked, alone or with other stuff, plain or with ketchup or some other sauce).
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The seminario campus where we're staying is also home to two American missionary families (the two others live elsewhere in the city). It draws students not only from Ecuador but also from Colombia and Venezuela. In addition to those here from regular semesters, the school also runs intensive one-week-long courses throughout the year for which people come in from those three countries. To keep costs affordable for students, the school does receive some subsidy from the Nazarene World Evangelism Fund. In addition, they are creative in making ends meet. For instance, this month all of the churches in Ecuador are taking a "food pounding" for the school. They're collecting all kinds of non-perishable food items from church members to use in the school cafeteria. Hmmm. I wonder if that would work for the Nazarene universities in the U.S.

To get other income, the school cafeteria and student lounge are rented out on Sundays to an independent congregation. Various groups also rent campus space throughout the year for conferences and retreats (they can even rent student housing when that is not being used).

Another interesting project the school has begun to bring in income is a rabbit raising project. They currently have about 150 rabbits they are raising to sell for meat and fur. Yesterday, the school president told me that the long-term goal is to have a rabbit population of about 600!

Then, the "semester-abroad" Spanish language program to which several Nazarene universities are sending students makes a profit which provides income for the seminary. Missionary Stan Hall (who has an earned doctorate in philosophy) heads up the program.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
"I hope you like Mexican food," someone at church said to me a week before we left for Ecuador. I just smiled and said "yes" to this rather common American assumption that all countries below the Rio Grande River eat the same foods.

Although classes here at the seminario don't start until Monday, the cafeteria has already opened. Yesterday Barbara and I ate lunch and supper there. Both meals featured a large helping of rice. The meat dish was beef liver and there was a vegetable salad. We also had potato soup. For a drink we had a fruit juice. Last night, in addition to the rice, we had an egg omelet with broccoli in it. Our drink was hot tea.

We sat at a table with two young families who are here as students. One of them is from the coastal city of Guayaquil. The young mother, Maria, talked wistfully about all of the seafood she missed having.
Friday, January 16, 2009
If you were to walk with me through the shopping area of Carcelen, the Quito neighborhood in which we live, you would see men and women wearing ponchos and felt hats (fedora and bowler types). Some of the women would be carrying babies on their backs. Some of the men would have their hair in a long braid. Some would be selling fruits and vegetables. Others would be waiting at bus stops. These are the Quechuas, the Amerindians or descendants of the original peoples of the Andes mountains.

Up to one-fourth of Ecuador's population is made up of indigenous peoples. That does include the Woarani people made famous by two films: "Through Gates of Splendor" and "End of the Spear." The largest indigenous group, however, are the Quechua peoples. Indeed Quechua is one of Ecuador's two official languages (Spanish is the other). It would be fun to try to learn Quechua, but I think Spanish is about all we'll have time for.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
The 9 American college students who are doing a semester abroad here in a total immersion Spanish language program, arrived last night. The first group got to campus about 10 p.m. The second group arrived at 11:45 and the last two arrived at about 12:15. I met all three groups and saw them off to their rooms. It was raining when the last ones got here, so I hope they were impressed. Fifteen minutes after midnight is not late for college students, but it is for me.

People notes: Felix Vargas, former drug enforcer from Colombia whose story is told in the 2007 movie, "From the Dark," has been living here on the campus and ministering in Ecuador since his radical conversion to faith in Christ. He left a couple of days ago for Argentina where he'll be in charge of evangelism for the Church of the Nazarene in all of South America. He has served time in U.S. prisons for drug trafficking and applied for a pardon from the Bush administration, but was turned down. I'm not sure why other people were deemed more worthy of a pardon than he was.

photo of Felix Vargas
Felix Vargas
Sunday, January 18, 2009
The sun is out this morning in Quito. That's great. We haven't seen much of it for three or four days. They say it's the rainy season here. I think it should be called the drizzly season as that's about all it has been so far here at 9,000 feet in the Andes. Down from the mountain, it's a different story. In the area of the headwaters of the Amazon where we'll be making a visit in a few weeks, they have 20 FEET of rain per year. That's serious rain!

People note: Yesterday at an orientation/get-acquainted session with the 9 American students and the students and faculty of the seminario, they paired us off for a prayer time. I got paired up with Yoan, a young man from Venezuela whose first name is pronounced almost like "John." Yoan asked me where I was from. When I said "Oklahoma," he asked if that was where the Oakland A's baseball team was located (think about it: Oklahoma and Oakland do sound somewhat similar). Then he told me that not long ago he was playing for a professional baseball team in Venezuela. Then, about the time that he was offered a contract by the Atlanta Braves, he felt God calling him to preach. He decided to leave behind that baseball career (and the potential of big money) and follow God's call. So, he's now studying for the ministry here in Ecuador. Yesterday, he prayed a powerful prayer of blessing on me. The Church of the future is in very good hands!
Monday, January 19, 2009
Yesterday morning at one of the 15 or so Nazarene churches here in Quito, I thought long and hard about the Christian message of transformation. It was Felix Vargas' last Sunday in Ecuador and so he had been invited to preach yesterday. He and his family leave today for Argentina where he'll be pushing/coordinating Nazarene evangelistic efforts in all of South America.

His sermon was a powerful one but I actually thought more about how radically changed his life was. He had been an "enforcer" for one of the drug cartels in Colombia and then he met Jesus. Here was a man who had tortured and killed people and now, in an Apostle-Paul-like transformation, is a herald of the Good News. Yesterday morning, I thought about "Christians" I knew whose spiritual lives seemed shallow and not-so-very-different from what they would be if they did not claim to be Christ followers.

NILI classes start today. We have to take two placement tests in Spanish (gulp). We'll be in Spanish class for about four hours each morning from now through late April.

Botanical note: Not far from the front door of our little apartment is a bush that I've named the "red-hat society bush." The flower buds on it are red but when the flowers open up, the petals are purple. It reminds me of those groups of ladies in the U.S. who wear purple dresses and red hats.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Ever wonder if those child sponsorship things do any good? Luz (Lucy) Olivo is one of the Spanish professors here in Quito in the NILI program. She has her bachelor's degree in theology and is a CPA. She's completing certification to teach Spanish as a second language. The other evening Barbara and I sat at a table with her and her husband at dinner and heard her story.

Lucy was born into a very poor non-Christian family. When she was six years old she and her brother went to a VBS at a Church of the Nazarene in her town. She never stopped going to that church! She became one of those children sponsored through Compassion International. As a young lady, she fell in love with the pastor's son and they eventually got married.

Well, Spanish classes start today. It's a total immersion program in which no English will be spoken in the classroom. Off we go!
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
We're living on the Pan-American highway!

For the past 20 years we have lived not far from the "mother road" in the U.S., old Route 66. Now that we're in Quito, we're living very near (300 feet) from another famous road, the Pan-American highway. That highway, which is more than 16,000 miles long, runs from Alaska to the southern part of Chile. The idea of such a highway linking many of the countries of the Americas was born in 1923. The U.S.A. gave quite a bit of financing for it in the 1940s and 1950s. Here in Ecuador, it looks more like old Route 66 than today's U.S. interstate highways because it runs right through the city with stoplights and vehicles making u-turns and pedestrians trying to get across it.

To this point all the license plates that I've seen are from Ecuador, but then I haven't been sitting out there next to the road for hours watching.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Last night we went to the National Folklore Ballet. It wasn't really a ballet, but a collection of cultural dances by the Quechua peoples. I loved the live pan-pipe music!

Prior to that event, we had supper at a KFC right across the street. It was fried chicken all right, but the rest of the plate didn't look like KFC in Oklahoma City. First of all, the plate on which it was served was huge. It was probably at least half again as large as those used in the U.S. I got one of the $2.50 combos. The drink was fairly small. We would have called it a child's drink in the U.S. There was a huge mound of rice on the plate. Then there was a serving of lentils and a very small lettuce and tomato salad with almost no dressing. Barbara had the chicken strips. She also had strips of fried banana on her rice. I was jealous. It was "different" but it was good and the restaurant was full so it appears that they are serving what people in Quito want!
Friday, January 23, 2009
We've been here two weeks although it seems like we've had a lot more experiences than could be crammed into 14 days. I think my Spanish has taken a considerable leap forward (although we haven't had any tests in Spanish class yet).

Last night at supper we had rabbit meat (they have a commercial rabbit-raising operation here on the seminario grounds). Some of the Ecuadorians were joking that it was guinea pig. Apparently guinea pig meat is considered a specialty by some Ecuadorians although all of the Ecuadorians I've met said they didn't like it.

Yesterday morning my Spanish teacher (I say "my" because Barbara is in a different class with a different teacher) talked about her pride in her country, both its geography and its culture. It was neat to hear that.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
I think there are a lot fewer insects here in Quito than in Oklahoma City. I understand it's a different scenario down closer to sea level (we're at 9,000+ feet), but we've been here two weeks and I haven't seen a single mosquito and only three flies. I haven't seen any ants or roaches and only one dead cricket and one shell of a cicada molt. I have seen a silverfish and two moths but I don't think I've seen any butterflies. There are no screens on the windows. Doors are left open with no screen doors. I wonder if that's why there also seem to be a lot fewer birds in Quito than in Oklahoma City (don't birds eat insects?).
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Yesterday evening I ate in the dining hall at a table with Luis and his wife. Luis is director of student life here at the seminario teologico in Quito. I asked him to tell me his story. He did not come from a Christian family but when he was 18 years old, his brother invited him to go church with him. His heart and mind were so dramatically impacted that he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. At that point in time Luis was already married and he and his wife had two children. Within three months he was pastoring a congregation! That was more than thirty years ago.

Luis said that he felt God had given him the gift of church-planting because in thirty plus years of pastoral ministry, he has planted 17 congregations in Ecuador. The seventeenth, which he is currently planting as well as being director of student life, is a few months old and is already running in the 60s and 70s.

There is a lot the church in the U.S.A. could learn from pastoral leaders like Luis and his wife.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Two of the SNU students studying here at NILI are doing work to get credit for SNU's Ministry, Church and Society course. One of the things they have to do every week is to write a reflection on the Church, growing out of their participation that week in the life of a congregation in Ecuador. Lindsey Rochester's title for her reflection this week is "A peek into the pews of heaven."

I went to the same church she did yesterday, the Comunidad Cristiana Nazarena Restauracion, and it was indeed a glimpse of heaven. There were people of all ages and from several different countries (Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Haiti and the U.S.A.). There was lots of warm hugging and kissing on the cheeks. There was a sense of Christ's presence in our midst as we celebrated Holy Communion together.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Roses . . . big roses. Bunches of cut roses are sold here in Quito on the street corners. They're a little over $1 for a dozen . . .

Here in the Andes mountains, it's eternal spring and so flowers grow all year round. Exporting flowers — particularly roses — to the U.S. is big business. In fact, flowers are the fourth biggest export industry in Ecuador (after oil, bananas, and shrimp). So, my U.S. friends, those cut roses in the flower shop you pass by today may have been grown here in Ecuador.

This is particularly interesting to me because we lived for almost a decade in Florence, Italy. That region is also a big grower and exporter of flowers.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Barbara and I spend three hours each morning in Spanish class and then we have some homework to do in the afternoon or evening. There are 12 of us (10 college students and us two "senior citizens"). After written and oral placement exams, they divided us into two groups.

Still, we must be a challenge for the two Ecuadorian teachers. Some of the students have had a lot of formal school but not too much total immersion in a Spanish-speaking environment. Others have had quite a bit of immersion in a Spanish-speaking environment but not much formal classroom learning. Some began learning Spanish in middle school; some began after they entered college. Some — like Barbara and I — speak another Romance language or two. Some have a fairly large Spanish vocabulary but not much mastery of the grammar. Some have a fairly good mastery of grammar but a limited vocabulary.

There are moments of frustration for everyone (including the teachers!). My hope is that three months from now, this experience will have served as a bit of a food processor or blender and we'll be chattering away at similar levels.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Yesterday morning was a sightseeing day in the old colonial center of Quito. I was overwhelmed by one of the displays in the Museo del Ciudad (City Museum). It was of various objects that an Ecuadorian nun, Mariana de Jesus, used to harm her body in order to purify herself spiritually. These included shoes that were purposefully made to be uncomfortable. There was a crown of real thorns that she wore. There was a shirt or blouse with hundreds of needles fastened on the inside. There was a little whip with metal pieces that she used to lacerate the skin on her back. She had a full-size cross nailed on the wall of her room to which she would attach herself for hours in a position of crucifixion.

Mariana de Jesus lived more than a hundred years after Martin Luther. So I found it sad that she was convinced that she had to physically torture herself as penance to try to purify her soul.

painting of Marianna de
Friday, January 30, 2009
Today we're going to the city of Otavalo for three days. Otavalo has a huge outdoor market for selling Ecuadorian handcrafted items. They say it's also the center of hammock production in Ecuador. Hammocks were likely invented in the Amazon basin (an area that includes eastern Ecuador). Christopher Columbus introduced hammocks to Europe as a result of his voyages to the New World.

One of the bedrooms in our apartment here on the seminario campus has hammock hooks in the walls (it took me a couple of days to figure out what they were!). We don't have a hammock, but missionary Stan Hall does here in his campus office. Just yesterday afternoon he took a brief nap in it (or tried to but North Americans kept knocking on his door and disturbing him!).

A couple of evenings ago we had dinner with Dwight and Carolyn Rich. Dwight grew up as a missionary kid in Haiti. He told the story of a hiking trip across a mountain range in Haiti in which he and a friend carried lightweight hammocks that they strung between two trees.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Ahhh. The internet. I think it might be in even more places around the world than Coca-Cola. I am writing this today from one of the many "internet cafés" in Otavalo, a town of about 26,000 inhabitants in the Andes mountains of northern Ecuador. Internet cafés are little "hole-in-the-wall" shops that have five or six computer stalls or carrels and maybe a photocopier. People can come in and use the computers (which are all connected to the Internet) for 60 cents per hour. Many of the café customers are young people playing online games but there are also adults who use them to check out things on the Internet.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Friday we went north on the Pan-American Highway to Otavalo. There's a large plaza in that town that is an open-air market of hand-crafted goods. That's nothing new in this area. The guide at the City Museum the other day told us that trade of hand-crafted goods has gone on all up and down the Andes mountain range for centuries — with trade routes stretching from Panama and Venezuela down through Colombia and Ecuador and on to Peru and the northern part of Chile.

As we sat in a church service this morning I thought about the gospel coming to this part of South America and spreading along that same trade route. The pastor of the church told me she was from southern Ecuador. So, she had come north on that trade route to study at the seminario and then on further north to Otavalo where she married and now pastors a church (one of five Nazarene congregations in and around Otavalo). By the way, her husband makes wonderful pictures that are collages of leaves and other organic material. The one we brought back to Quito is a mountain scene with a Quechua Indian sitting beside a basket of flowers.
Monday, February 2, 2009
In many countries of the world, women carry their babies on their backs. That's true of the indigenous tribal cultures of Ecuador. It is not an uncommon sight in Quito; in Otavalo where we were this weekend, it's the order of the day. Women also carry other things on their backs so sometimes you have to look twice. On Saturday I saw a woman with a small lump attached to her back and thought she was just carrying something home from the store and then I saw two little feet dangling below the lump! It's also cute to see the heads of babies that are a little older bobbing around trying to see everything. I watched one lady reaching back and patting her baby's bottom.

I'm trying to read the Bible all the way through in Spanish this spring. One of the readings yesterday (each day I read a NT passage, an OT passage and something from the wisdom books), included Deuteronomy 32:11 which says in the New International Reader's Version,

He was like an eagle that stirs up its nest. It hovers over its little ones. It spreads out its wings to catch them. It carries them on its feathers.

What a great word picture that reminded me of the safety and emotional warmth these babies must feel as they are being carried by their mothers.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
The global financial crisis is evident here. Yesterday morning one of our Spanish teachers, Evelyn, said that the private school in which her special needs son was enrolled closed its doors on Friday. She's not sure what she's going to do. Her teenage son, who is paralyzed, no longer has a school to go to. The school closed because the fathers of at least two other students in that special school lost their jobs and so took their children out of the school.

The socialist government here supposedly was going to do something for handicapped children but that plan (and many other promises) was based on the price of oil staying sky high. Pray for Evelyn and her family as they seek to cope with the situation regarding her son.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Our language school here has us spingend time in a traditional classroom setting (grammar exercises, conversation, quizzes, reporting on newspaper articles, writing brief essays), but it also includes field trips. Today we're going to one of Quito's fruit/vegetable markets. Each of us has been assigned a fruit or vegetable to buy. We have to find out as much as we can about the particular item (where it is produced in Ecuador, its shelf life, how it's consumed, what kind of nutritional value it has) for an oral report in class tomorrow. At that time we'll also share a piece of whatever food we've purchased with everyone.

I've been assigned naranjilla which one English website calls "the lost fruit of the Incas." On the outside it looks like a huge persimmon, but on the inside, it looks like a tomato (or so says the Internet). It's used to make juice and jam. It grows on a large bush which has leaves about the size of ornamental elephant ear plants. I hope I don't get embarrassed by paying too much (part of our assignment is to haggle with vendors over the price of what we're buying). Barbara has been assigned to the "tree tomato."
Thursday, February 5, 2009
I think I'm about to get shown up in language class this morning. Yesterday my wife Barbara bought enough of the "tree tomatoes" to make juice for everyone. Last night she also prepared some wonderful-looking little plates with displays of them.

I just bought a handful of my assigned fruit, naranjilla. There's not enough to make for juice for everyone and they're pretty sour without added sugar, somewhat like unsweetened Kool-Aid. I don't have any fancy plates fixed. I'm just going to cut some of them open. Barbara was also up late working on her speech about the "tree tomato." She even drew a map of Ecuador to show where they are grown. I haven't even written down any notes to take to class. Oh my, I'm going to look bad. I need to get my act together in Spanish so that I can at least say, "I'm embarrassed that I don't have a very good presentation this morning."
Friday, February 6, 2009
I had a dream the other night in which I spoke Spanish. That is a good sign. I think it means my mind is creating the "folder" for me to attain a decent level of Spanish. People sometimes ask us if the various languages we already speak — English, Italian, Haitian Creole, and French — get mixed up in our minds. No, they do not. If the human brain can be compared to a computer (and there are some similarities), then it seems to me that when one becomes fairly fluent in a language, the brain has created folders and subfolders for that language. I think my dream (and it was just me speaking Spanish; I don't recall anyone else speaking or even being in the dream) could be an indication that the folder has been created. Yeah!

Supper in the dining hall last night was one of those "Oh, that's different!" moments. It was a pasta dish with pasta and peas and little pieces of ham. The Ecuadorians were dousing it with mayonnaise and ketchup. I do like ketchup on French fries and hot dogs and scrambled eggs and bacon . . . but on pasta?
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Yesterday afternoon we made the hour's drive all the way to the south end of Quito (we live on the north end) to the Itchimbia Cultural Center where the 2009 International Orchid Expo was being held.

Ecuador is a natural location for this show (which is held in a different country each time). Ecuador has more than 4,000 varieties of orchids, 1300 of which exist only in this small country that straddles the equator. I don't know that all 4,000 of Ecuador's orchids were on display, but a lot of them were. We don't see them growing wild in Quito. This city may be too high and the climate may be a bit too dry.

They tell me that orchids are everywhere once you start down the sides of the Andes mountains and get into the jungle. Orchids come in an incredible variety of sizes, shapes and colors. As we wandered through the Expo I thought about how much fun our Creator must have had just making orchids (not to mention all the wonderfully colored little tree frogs that there are!)
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Racism and hatred based on one's ethnicity are not confined to any one culture. On Friday morning our language teacher talked with great emotion about how Ecuadorians are looked upon and treated in some European countries and even other South American countries.

As an example, she told us the story of a 16-year-old Ecuadorian girl who was the subject of an unprovoked assault in Spain a little over a year ago. In an incident caught on security cameras, a 21-year-old Spanish young man began insulting the Ecuadorian young lady sitting by herself on the subway. Shouting at her to go back to her own country, he began hitting her. Before stepping off the train, the man kicked the girl in the head.

Video of the attack:
Monday, February 9, 2009
Back in 2000, the U.S. Mint started churning out Sacajawea dollar coins. You almost never see one in circulation in the U.S. Ever wonder what happened to all of them? Well, they're circulating in Ecuador along with the older Susan B. Anthony dollar coins. On any given day I'll have two or three of them in my pocket. In almost every transaction I do in a store or at a newsstand or coffee shop, I'll be giving or receiving U.S. dollar coins.

In 2000 Ecuador joined Panama in using the U.S. dollar as its official currency. The change was made to curb out-of-control inflation and it did seem to be the proper medicine for the Ecuadorian economy.

All of the paper currency I've seen in circulation is printed in the U.S. However, Ecuador does make a lot of the small coins used here. So, a handful of small change will be half coins from the U.S. and half coins minted in Ecuador. Though the coins minted in Ecuador have different designs than those minted in the U.S., both have the same value. The 50-cent piece is used a lot more here than in the U.S. although all of the 50-cent pieces I've seen are minted in Ecuador. As I noted, the dollar coin is a great deal more common than the dollar bill.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The word "Ecuador" is the Spanish equivalent of the English word "equator." One reason this country is called "Ecuador" is because it straddles the equator. That does, however, complicate things a bit because it would be far too confusing to call a country by the same name that is given to an imaginary line that bisects it. So, here in Ecuador (equator), the equator is called "mitad del mundo" (middle of the world). In fact, not far from the seminario campus is a road sign pointing north to the "mitad del mundo" (middle of the world).

Our Spanish class teacher says that her family's favorite place for an outing is the park-like area at the "mitad del mundo."

We haven't gone up there to visit that line separating the northern and southern hemispheres of the globe, but we will soon. The line was first surveyed in the 1700s and eventually, a marker was set up here in Ecuador. Satellite-based GPS systems have determined that the original surveying was about 700 feet off, but that's not bad for the hand-carried survey instruments they used in the 1700s!
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
One thing that many Spanish-speaking countries do with a person's name is to add the mother's maiden name as the last thing in one's official name. That seems to be true in Ecuador.

There is a supermarket called Super-Maxi not far from the seminario campus where we live. They sell a discount card for $40 per year which entitles a person to a 5% discount on everything in the store. Although we're not going to be here for a year, we did some calculating with a volunteer couple that is here from Missouri for three months and felt that together we would save more than the $40. So, each couple chipped in $20 and we purchased a discount card. When I filled out the paperwork I had to put down my mother's maiden name. When I turned in that paperwork and paid the $40, I received a temporary paper card which we've been using. Yesterday, I got the plastic permanent card. On it my name is: Howard Culbertson Rosbrugh. That reflect the Hispanic custom of a peron carrying both the father's and the mother's last name.
Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 5:39am
When you're living at 9,500 feet above sea level (Quito sits atop the Andes mountain range), how do you tell the difference between fog and a cloud?

In Oklahoma, clouds were what sailed above my head (at even four or five thousand feet!). Now that I'm at almost 10,000 feet, what do I call this white stuff that comes wafting through here every so often obscuring vision? Does a cloud become fog just because it gets close to a mountain?

If so, then are those fog lights that the airplanes use when they land at the Quito airport?
Friday, February 13, 2009
We had a test in Spanish class the other day here in Quito. Some of the students were complaining because our vocabulary list for that exam had 75 new words on it.

They thought 75 was a lot; I didn't think it was very many. After all, we're trying to attain a degree of fluency in Spanish. Some say that the average college graduate in the U.S.A. has a working vocabulary of at least 50,000 words in English. . . and we're saying that 75 words are too many for us to study for a Spanish exam?

Today we're off for the Amazon jungle. We'll be there for eight days. They say that the town we're staying in does have Internet access. We'll see.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
For the next week, we are here at the edge of the Amazon basin in a town called Shell. Today we went to visit a couple of huge waterfalls in the jungle. Amazing. They told us that the amount of wild orchid,s here would be overwhelming. It is. We saw lots of pretty good-sized ones today and then some little bitty tiny ones.

The little internet café I am writing this from is in the living room of a little home on the main town square. On top of a monument in the square is a replica of the plane used by the five North American missionaries who were killed not far from here in 1956 (Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and three others). Jim Elliot authored the slogan, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Today over lunch Barbara and I sat and listened to the story of Kim Haddock, a long-time volunteer missionary in Venezuela and now here in Ecuador. Kim has a wonderful story of how God led her, a young school teacher, on a Mazareme
Kim is a key part of the NILI (Nazarene International Language Institute) in Ecuador. Indeed, she's a key detail person that makes things function as well as being the student life director. That means she handles all kinds of issues that range from getting medical problems cared for to making sure everyone is getting along with their Ecuadorian roommates!

Pray for Kim.
Monday, February 16, 2009
This afternoon we flew into the jungle in two small Missionary Aviation Fellowship planes. We landed on a muddy dirt airstrip near a Waorani village. This the tribe that murdered the five missionaries in 1956, a story told in "At the end of a spear" and "Through Gates of Splendor."

Some children and young people came running out to meet us as we taxied to a grassy spot beside the dirt strip. By the time we had parked the airplane, an old man was walking toward us. He came up, greeted us and said, "Let's pray," and began to pray in the Waorani language. As we walked around the village, our pilot told us that the man was one of those who had speared those missionaries to death. As I gazed at the little structure in which Rachel Saint had lived in that village, I marveled at the power of God's grace.

We spent a couple of hours there and then walked back to the plane. Just before we got back on board that elderly man said again, "Let's pray," and he again prayed heaven and earth together in Waorani. It was a special day.
photo of two people in front
of single-engine airpalne

The little Cessna 172 that flew us to visit the Waorani village
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Yesterday we drove into the jungle and then hiked for another 20-30 minutes to a waterfall. Along the way our guide pointed out some plants that the indigenous peoples use for medicine. He said that, for the native peoples living in eastern Ecuador, the jungle is both a supermarket and a pharmacy. His words reminded me that God did indeed create a wonderful world.

It is also a soggy world in places because yesterday we got drenched by an afternoon jungle rainstorm! Our guide cut some large leaves which we used as small umbrellas as we trekked along on the jungle trail, but about all our leaf umbrellas could do was to keep our heads dry.

We also took a 30-minute ride down one of the tributaries of the Amazon in dugout canoes.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Today we ate lunch at a nice restaurant in Puyo, Ecuador. One of the first things our waiter brought to our table was a bowl of popcorn. "I think we're having soup," said Rachel Cadwallader. That is because people here seem to like to put popcorn in their soup just as many North Americans like broken-up crackers in theirs.

Rachel was right. The soup arrived shortly after the popcorn and so I dumped a couple of handfuls of popcorn in it. Not bad.
Friday, February 20, 2009
This morning before we left eastern Ecuador (Amazon jungle) to return to Quito up in the Andes mountains, I had a few minutes to chat with the Nazarene district superintendent of that area. David Lemache laughed that he used to be the pastor of the man who now pastors the Shell Church of the Nazarene and now that man is his pastor. Of course, David also happens to be the father of the current Shell church pastor. David is also the father-in-law of Marcela Paredes de Lemache whose eye problems have been mentioned in the last few Prayer Mobilization emails from the Nazarene Missions International office.

David talked this morning a little bit about the churches on his district. This is a country where the Church of the Nazarene has exploded in recent years. David said that sadly there were a few other places on his district that used to have a Church of the Nazarene, but that because of the lack of good leadership, some congregations had faded away. Join me in praying with David that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into the harvest.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Being in the Amazon jungle is like being in a greenhouse of tropical plants on steroids. The plants are everywhere and they are huge. We saw lots and lots of orchids blooming along the roadside as we drove into the jungle area. In fact, the roadside crews cleaning up the shoulders of the road would cut back the orchids . . . along with all kinds of other plants that are sold as expensive houseplants in the U.S.A.! On the flip side, a variety of crabgrass is what is used for lawns in that area of Ecuador. So, not only are we south of the equator which means it must be summer here instead of winter but we were where orchids had to be cut back and crabgrass was encouraged to grow.

The smallest orchid I saw in the wild in eastern Ecuador had flowers smaller than the nail on my pinkie. The Nazarene pastor from Shell who was with us that day said that orchids come much smaller than that!
Sunday, February 22, 2009
At about 7:30 one morning last week, I was sitting in front of our little hotel in Shell reading my Spanish Bible. A lady came by with her third or fourth-grade daughter on the way to school. The girl had a worksheet from school with some words she was reading out loud and trying to pronounce correctly. The mother was correcting her as they walked along. For a moment I was tempted to jump up and run down the gravel street to them saying, "Let me go with you. I want to learn how to pronounce those words correctly too!"

Jesus once said, "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." What Jesus said about entering the Kingdom of Heaven is also true of learning a language. As we try to achieve some level of fluency in Spanish, we've become like little children again. We struggle to make ourselves understood and we try to look like we're understanding what people say even when they are using too many words that we do not recognize.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Yesterday morning in church in Quito, there were three first-time visitors. When the person running the service introduced them, he did something I've seen done in other countries, but never in the U.S. He gave them a few minutes to say something — a testimony, greetings or anything they'd like to say. All three of them took advantage of the opportunity. It does give a point of contact for other members of the congregation to talk with them after service.

Yesterday was one of the longest services we've been in here. We started about 10:30 and finished at 1 p.m. I was invited to help serve communion.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Sports can be an avenue for developing friendships in any culture. One of the students here in the NILI program is Josh Ayers, a soccer player from Olivet. He's made all kinds of Ecuadorian friends. It seems like he's playing soccer somewhere every afternoon! In Shell, the Amazon jungle town we spent a week in recently, he wound up playing soccer with some young people from that town. He had the opportunity one afternoon to talk about Jesus for nearly an hour with a young man after a soccer game. The young man had never been to church in his life. Josh even bought an inexpensive soccer ball and inscribed it with a scripture verse and gave it to the young man who promised to go to the Sunday morning service at the Church of the Nazarene in Shell (we left on a Friday).

Interestingly enough, the young Ecuadorian's name was also Joshua. Will you join me in praying for this young Ecuadorian? Pray that the gospel seeds planted as a result of a relationship begun on a soccer field will sprout and grow and flower! Wednesday, February 25, 2009, at 6:34 am.

Over the past couple of weeks there have been some heavy rains here in Ecuador that have caused some landslides that have blocked roads, including a major one that connected the capital city with the coast. One of the landslides was on a road we took into the jungle last week. By the time we got to where the landslide had occurred, road crews were already at work on the problem and the road was passable. With almost no problem we made our way past the heavy equipment and on into the jungle.

The problem occurred on the way back. It was a rainy day (most days are rainy in the jungle) and we were headed uphill this time instead of down. The road in the landslide area was no longer gravel but mud. We started up the landslide area and stalled out, tires spinning. "Oh no," we thought. Then we saw a road worker headed our way, waving and holding up a large chain. Behind him, a massive, track-mounted Caterpillar backhoe/excavator was turning around and slowly heading our way. The backhoe came lumbering down to where we were, hooked up to us with the chain, and up the hill we slowly went. He pulled us a hundred or more yards through the landslide area, unhooked the chain, and moved off the road. The road crew waved to us and off we went! It was obvious we weren't the first vehicle that backhoe operator had pulled up the muddy hill that day.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Yesterday our Spanish language class went to visit the Basilica of the National Vow. It is quite a structure. It was begun in the late 1800s with some government money. Money eventually ran out and it became as our Spanish professor said, "a white elephant" in the historic center of Quito. Finally, in the 1980s money was budgeted for enough of it to be finished so that tourists could wander through it. It was officially consecrated in 1988.

From a distance, it is an impressive building. Up close, it is clearly unfinished with all kinds of details missing. Little alcoves in the main sanctuary which were supposed to hold altars sit empty. Some openings are boarded up. Steel rebar rods stick out in various places. Although the church building is in use, it would take millions of dollars to complete it. Finding that money seems so far-fetched that local legend says that when the Basilica is completed, the end of the world will come. One interesting thing about it is that the rainwater downspout gargoyles on the outside are sculptures of native Ecuadorian animals.

It is the fruit of a dream for which someone did not really count the cost (or was it the victim of cost overruns?). Interestingly enough, as I'm reading the Bible in Spanish, I've run across passages in both testaments that say that God is more interested in us committing to Him our hearts than He is in us giving great sacrifices (building great cathedrals?).
Friday, February 27, 2009
The electronic communication systems like film and television that look like they are drawing our world together are also fountains of misconceptions. We in the U.S.A. often come away from our televisions with distorted or even wrong ideas about other places in the world. Likewise, other places in the world come away from their televisions with very wrong ideas about the U.S.A.

One such wrong image in South America is the animated cartoon show "The Simpsons." The show, dubbed into Spanish, is hugely popular in Latin America. Yesterday in Spanish class we read an article from a news magazine here that noted how the cartoon Simpson family enabled Latin American viewers to see how families functioned in the U.S.A.

I've only seen occasional snippets of the Simpsons. What I have seen is not how we relate to each other in my family. It's not how most families I know in the U.SA. function.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
When we visited the Basilica of the National Vow last Wednesday in downtown Quito, it was crawling with very early elementary-age children in school uniforms. Chattering happily, they all had a bit of ash on their foreheads as a result of coming to the Basilica on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Seeing a six-year-old with ash on her forehead was something new to us. We spent 10 years in heavily Roman Catholic Italy. There, however, only those who have taken their "first communion" (usually around age ten to twelve) would participate in the Ash Wednesday ritual.

What do the ashes on the forehead mean for the Ecuadorians? Well, our language teacher told us the story of a friend. The friend who runs a little store was being nagged by her mother to go to the church and get the ashes on her forehead. "You need to do this to get your sins forgiven," her mother said. Finally, Evelyn's friend — tired of being nagged at by her mother — closed up her store, ran to the neighborhood church, and got the ashes!

I'm praying that Evelyn — who became a believer not many years ago herself — will have an opportunity to witness clearly to her friend about God's forgiving and transforming grace.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
The seminario held a special conference for pastors and church leaders Friday and yesterday. Yesterday at lunch I had the opportunity to sit with a young couple from Cali, Columbia. They're leaders in the youth program of that huge congregation. It's one of the largest Nazarene churches in the world with four services each Sunday with about 2,000 people in each service. They talked a little bit about some of the varied ministries of their church.

Yesterday evening Barbara and I went with the Student Development director of the seminario to a new church he's started in his free time. Right now they're having services on Saturday afternoon. He began about two months ago with two people. Yesterday, there were 20-25 adults crammed into the little storefront they're using. Outside in a kind of carport area, there were 40 children.

It was an exciting day: (1) to be with key leaders of a congregation that has an unbelievable ministry in Cali, Colombia and then (2) to observe what God is doing in birthing a congregation in the hills on the north end of Quito.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Since we arrived in Ecuador two months ago, we have been asked several times by Ecuadorians if we have eaten "cuy" (guinea pig). When we have said "no," they would giggle and then admit that they haven't either or that they don't like it. Guinea pig meat is a staple for some of Ecuador's indigenous tribal groups.

Well, I can now add guinea pig to the list of things I have eaten. Four college students (three from Olivet and one from SNU) and I had guinea pig for Sunday dinner! I doubt that "cuy" or guinea pig is going to become a global food like pizza or hamburger. For one thing, it doesn't have a lot of meat like is found in rabbit or chicken. Then, secondly, the guinea pig meat that we had was quite greasy.

The guinea pig is served much like a pig is served in big festivals in some cultures. That is, the head was still attached and the feet were there as well. We ate it while sitting in a fancy restaurant about 150 feet from the line marking the equator.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
One of the fascinating things about being in another culture is looking at other peoples' perspectives on life and the world. For instance, when North Americans think of Ernesto "Che" Guevara they often think of a Marxist revolutionary bent on the violent overthrow of political and economic systems like that of the U.S.A. In much of Latin America, Guevara is revered as a hero who fought for justice for the oppressed and impoverished masses. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see silhouettes of his likeness on walls and t-shirts.

So there is a willingness to overlook Guevara's violent side — this former medical student unhesitatingly shot defectors — and embrace his idealism much as North Americans do with Thomas Jefferson (who said Jesus did not do miracles and that God doesn't intervene in the world in any way and who fathered children by one of his slaves) or Thomas Paine, the oft-quoted pamphleteer of the American revolution who also said, "It is the fable of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament, and the wild and visionary doctrine raised thereon, against which I contend. The story, taking it as it is told, is blasphemously obscene."

Being here hasn't really changed my views on Guevara but I can see how he is a symbol for those who feel disparaged, oppressed and exploited by the wealthy and entrenched elite of their own society.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Last night we had missionaries Jon and Shirley Fischer and their 17-year-old daughter Krista over for the evening meal. It was great to hear the story of how God led them to where they are today. It began with a Nazarene Mission Team trip and then another and then another. Feeling that God wanted them to do more than just go on 10-day trips, they quit their jobs and moved with their two young daughters to Venezuela for a year of volunteer service. That one year turned into eight years of volunteer service and then to a contract as career missionaries. They now serve the church here on the Andean field (Ecuador, Venezuela, and Colombia), supervising Nazarene Mission Teams teams and helping handle finances (Jon is a trained accountant).

Jon and Shirley talked yesterday evening about how the Lord had provided for their financial needs during those eight years of volunteer service. That provision often came from unexpected sources. God is good! Pray for the Fischers and others like them around the world who have stepped out in faith to give themselves for the cause of world evangelism.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Last night we ate supper in the home of missionaries Dwight and Carolyn Rich along with the other missionary families and Mission Corps volunteers who are serving here in Ecuador. After we ate (Carolyn is a great cook!), Dwight showed us a brief video that has just been produced for the JESUS Film Harvest Partners. The film explains a church planting strategy using the JESUS film.

New churches which are planted in Ecuador using the JESUS film are being challenged to plant three daughter churches using the film. Those three new churches are then being each challenged to plant three more new churches using the JESUS film. The film tells the story of one new church that had done just that: it has planted three new churches with the JESUS film. Those daughter churches have now gone on to plant grand-daughter churches!
Friday, March 6, 2009
This weekend (Friday night, all day Saturday and all day Sunday), pastors and lay families of Nazarene churches here in Quito will be hosting the NILI American college students. One objective is for these young Americans to get a sense of what family life is like in an Ecuadorian home. Another is for them to learn how to prepare a typical Ecuadorian dish in an Ecuadorian kitchen.

This morning, the group received some instructions on how to act in the homes. Among the things they are NOT to do is run around the house barefoot. Ecuadorians are very meticulous about order and cleanliness in their homes. Running around with bare feet means that you are going to get the bed dirty when you climb into it! Another instruction was NOT to scrape food off your plate into the garbage if you are helping clean up. That's like a slap in the face to the family who offered it to you. Food not eaten will be given to pets or to a neighbor or to the homeless guy who stays nearby. Then there was the caution for students to ask right away if hot water would be available for showers/baths and at what hours.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
One of the things a church should be doing is making sure all of the various people groups in its area of geographic responsibility are being ministered to. Here in Ecuador the Church of the Nazarene not only has congregations and ministries going in the majority mestizo (mixed European immigrant/indigenous) population, but also among some of the indigenous Amerindian groups that retain their ancestral languages as well as a lot of cultural things that set them apart from the mestizos.

Not long ago, a Korean church was also organized here in Quito among immigrants from that Asian country. For more on this, go to:
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Today is the day that many countries in the Northern Hemisphere change to Daylight Savings Times ("spring forward" in the spring; "fall back" in the fall). Ecuador doesn't change. Why should it? It gets light here at about 6 a.m. every day of the year and gets dark at about 6 p.m. every day of the year. There are some days when it is chillier than others and there are some periods of the year when there is a little more rain than in other months. But the amount of daylight per day does not change (at least not more than a few seconds or minutes). Of course, there's also the fact that the equator comes through the middle of Ecuador. So, trying to keep in sync with other countries wouldn't make sense either since half of this country is in the northern hemisphere and half is in the southern hemisphere.

Thus, while my friends and family in the U.S.A. got an hour's less sleep last night (unless they went to bed an hour earlier than usual), I got my eight hours and still went to bed at my normal time and got up at my normal time.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Ecuadorian Sunday morning church services always seem to start with quite a few empty seats. Then as the service progresses, those seats begin filling up. Eventually, you are scooting toward the middle of the row and then ushers start bringing in extra chairs from somewhere to put in the aisle. Not every congregation I've attended here has packed out its sanctuary on that particular Sunday morning, but all of them have been comfortably full. Yesterday in the little church I attended, there were three or four people sitting in chairs on the cement porch outside the front door. The Lord was there. It was a happy day and everyone seemed content with the two-hour and 45-minute service (I was probably the only one looking at my watch).
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Last night some of the American college students and two Colombians came to our little apartment to make cookies and cook spaghetti. They had a lot of fun and even cleaned up everything! One of the young Colombians sat and talked for a while with Barbara and me. He talked about his family life which had been destroyed by the drug traffic culture of his country. He is a part of the huge Nazarene church in Cali and he got excited talking about it and his own dreams of being a missionary church planter.

Then, he talked about how different Ecuador is from Colombia (although they share a border). He talked about various things about Colombia that he missed here in Quito. His homesickness for various things about his home country reminded me that we North Americans too often lump all the countries in South America into one package and assume that because almost all of them speak Spanish that South America must be somewhat like the U.S.A. As he talked, it struck me that the variations across the U.S.A. are less than the differences between the various countries in South America.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Last night all of the language school students (including us) were invited over by missionary Shirley Fischer for pizza and pie (we eat pizza here a lot but I still think it's an Italian food rather than an Ecuadorian one). Shirley's husband Jon is on a trip to Venezuela, so we were hosted by Shirley and her daughter Krista.

After pizza and pie and while everyone else was chatting and looking at the huge, eight-inch-across spider (dead and in a glass case), I picked up a book on the history of evangelical work in Ecuador. The book began with a panorama of how Christianity first arrived in this country along with the conquistadores. There were a lot of awful things committed in the name of Christ in that early period. For instance, one native leader was being tortured to try to get him to convert to Christianity. Finally, under the pain of the torture he gave in and agreed to become a Christian. They cleaned him up and baptized him and then murdered him anyway. I wonder how such perversions of the Gospel are going to be dealt with at the Last Judgment.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Not long ago the ambassador to Ecuador from the U.S.A. caused a small stir here when she said, "Well, on this issue, the American position is . . . "

That caused a stir because the Ecuadorians view themselves as Americans too. For them, restricting the label "American" only to the citizens of the U.S.A. is somewhat offensive. The slogan "Buy American" sounds bizarre to them as well since that slogan means that people should purchase goods made in the U.S.A. (and not in Ecuador or other South American countries).

Schools in Ecuador even divide up the land masses of the world a little differently than those in the U.S.A. For them there is only one American continent rather than two or three. They see North America, Central America, and South America as being only one continent in the same way that we North Americans see Northern Europe, Southern Europe, Central Europe and Eastern Europe as all being part of the same continent.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Within U.S. culture a thirteenth day of the month that falls on a Friday is supposed to be an unlucky day. However, I'm feeling good this morning. Barbara and I spent two hours yesterday evening at a nearby evangelical orphanage for abandoned and handicapped children. The orphanage property is a series of wonderfully kept-up buildings that hold about 45 children. They use a lot of volunteers and so most of the American college students here in the NILI program have signed up to help, some of them for a couple of hours every day! Barbara and I will be going every Thursday.

Yesterday, we were there at meal time so we spent our two hours with the two-year-olds, helping them get ready to eat and then eating and then a little bit of clean-up time. I spent more than an hour helping "Maria of the Angels" eat. Though she is five years old, she was with the two-year-olds because she is so severely handicapped. She cannot speak or move her limbs and seemed to be blind.

While I was trying to coax Maria to eat, I thought of Jesus' words, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me" (Matthew 25:40).
Saturday, March 14, 2009
One of the adventures of living in another country is trying out and becoming accustomed to their foods. We North Americans often think of rice as an Asian staple. It's also a staple here in Ecuador. Here rice is served for every meal. It doesn't matter what else is being served, there will be a huge helping of plain, white rice. Strangely, however, bread is eaten almost exclusively at breakfast time. It seems strange to eat in a restaurant and not have bread served!

Another difference is in the use of oatmeal. While we North Americans eat a lot of cooked oatmeal as a breakfast cereal, here oatmeal is the main ingredient of a drink! Yucca is eaten fairly frequently in either soup or as an ingredient in bread. Beans are eaten only occasionally, unlike in Mexico where refried beans are a component of almost every meal including breakfast.

One of the most delicious things we've eaten is a sweet cornmeal and raisin concoction wrapped in a huge leaf that resembles that of the ornamental, flowering canna plant.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Usually, we get excited in our Bible reading when some new insight flashes into our minds or we connect different passages together or some new detail jumps out at us. One of my goals while here in Ecuador has been to read the entire Bible in Spanish. I'm reading about 10-12 chapters a day and am on target to finish in about four weeks. One of the wonderful things about my Bible reading project is how words, phrases, or grammatical constructions will jump out at me because of something we have been studying in Spanish class. Often there are multiple things in a day's reading that loom up before me.

This morning I was reading in the seventh chapter of John's gospel when the last phrase of verse eleven jumped out at me. The rather plain-vanilla English phrasing of the Jewish leaders' question, "Where is he [Jesus]?" becomes a delightful probability phrase in the Spanish Nueva Versiòn Internacional translation, .i.e., "Where could he be?"

The use in Spanish of the future tense of a verb to express conjecture of this kind in the present is something we studied one morning this past week. I'll never read John 7:11 without thinking beyond the plain vanilla of English to the additional subtle nuances of the Spanish, "Where could he be?"
Monday, March 16, 2009
Yesterday in Sunday school three people shared their testimonies (side note: why do church services and Sunday school classes always seem so crowded here? Isn't there a way that American churches, which often seem to have so much floor space in their buildings, could share some of their room with congregations elsewhere in the world?).

One lady came to know the Lord while a young child. She said it was the story of the fisherman Peter being told by Jesus that he would become a fisher of men that grabbed her heart. A man named Carlos said he became a believer as a young man because of the transformed life of his wife. Marelene said she was at a lake one day and became overwhelmed by the wonderful creation and came to know the Lord as a result of that experience.

Later, in the worship service, the pastor interviewed two families, one of them an Ecuadorian military family and then a couple in which the husband was a policeman. One of the things they talked about was the challenge of living their faith in environments where there was a lot of corruption.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
It is St. Patrick's Day and in the U.S.A. and Ireland, there are big celebrations. It doesn't seem to be a big day here in Ecuador. I went to several shops here in north Quito yesterday looking for something and there was no sign of St. Patrick's day: no green cards, no leprechauns, no pots of gold at the end of rainbows, no three- or four-leaf clovers, no green beer mugs.

Of course, all of that stuff would be very foreign to St. Patrick anyway. He was a teenager living in England in the early 400s when Irish pirates came to his fishing village and destroyed it, taking him back to Ireland as a slave. In his early twenties he managed to escape and return to England. There he felt God calling him to go back to Ireland as a Christian missionary. He did and managed in about 30 years of ministry to foster a church planting movement that gave birth to 700 churches which turned the Irish from faith in leprechauns and other things to faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The four-leaf clover which you often see associated with St. Patrick's Day is something heretical. Patrick used a three-leaf clover to try to explain the trinity to some Irish pagan chieftains. I'm not sure how the extra leaf got in there except to say that human beings often distort the things of God.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
At lunch on Monday, I sat in the school cafeteria with a professor from Peru who is here this week teaching a seminar on Wesleyan-Arminian theology to advanced-level students. Though his area is theology, he is also well-versed in missiology. Our conversation was in Spanish so I really was struggling to communicate, yet also somewhat proud of myself for being able to carry on such a conversation. He asked which books we were using in missions classes at SNU. He mentioned several authors that he liked, a couple of them being Latin Americans with whom I was not familiar. It was exciting and humbling to sense the level of scholarship of Nazarene Latin American educational leaders.

Sometimes we North Americans are tempted to think we're the great dispensers of knowledge. In his book The Next Christendom, Philip Jenkins says that the center of gravity of Christianity has shifted away from the West and to south of the equator. I certainly had a confirmation of that at lunch on Monday.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Yesterday our Spanish language group went to a museum featuring the works of Oswaldo Guayasamín, an Ecuadorian painter, sculptor, and designer. Though Guayasamín was sought after by the rich and famous as a portrait painter, he dedicated a lot of energy to fighting racism, elitism, and injustice. Sadly, all Guayasamín knew of Christianity was an institutional church that allied itself closely with the powerful and spent millions building cathedrals. Turning away from Christianity, Guayasamín sought solutions in politics. Though the artwork in the "Chapel of Man" museum was fascinating, it was also depressing because there was no sense of hope to be seen anywhere.

When we returned to our apartment, there was an email waiting for us from Richard Schneberger, our pastor in Oklahoma City. In that email, Richard included some words from Gary Haugen, founder of the International Justice Mission. Among the things Gary wrote was this:
"The victims of injustice in our world do not need our spasm of passion; they need our long obedience in the same direction. They need our legs and lungs of endurance; and we need sturdy stores of joy. We cannot ache and sweat through history's long arc of justice without clutching life-giving stores of beauty, laughter, goodness, love and light, without snatching delicious naps in the cool grassy spots, and without late night fires with friends who make us flush and ache with laughter. To carelessly ditch the cool canteen of joy in the name of a severe urgency is to misunderstand the expedition and to render one's self useless in the fight against aggressive evil.

"The grim, sophisticated, self-serious activist finds himself angry and spent and exceedingly bad company. For while it is heartless and lazy to pretend that the pitiless suffering, slaughter, and waste of our world is not real and true, it is indulgent and false to believe it is the whole truth in this world or the next — for it is not. To lose this faith is to lose sight of what makes evil evil and our fight worth fighting. Moreover, as wizened and weathered veterans have observed, nearly once every day the Divine struggle for justice should make us laugh — for the juxtaposition of the grandness and glory of the calling with the quality of his recruits is sure evidence of a comic heart within the Sovereign."
painting of indigenous mother
and child
My favorite of Guayasamin's paintings
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Yesterday (Friday) we drove down the Pan American highway from Quito to Riobamba. With 125,000 people, Riobamba is Ecuador's 4th largest city. A day or two before we left Quito, a North American who has been in Ecuador several times said to me, "Why are you going to Riobamba? There's nothing to do there."

Let me tell you what we've done since arriving less than 24 hours ago. Late yesterday afternoon we unloaded our stuff in the dorm-style housing of the unfinished district center at the edge of Riobamba. Then we went to eat at a really nice pizza restaurant with the name Monaco. The pizza was fairly close to being authentic Italian pizza. From there we went to one of the local Nazarene churches for a get-acquainted time. They were a great bunch of people. Their youth group has about 120 young people attached to it and their building only seats about 120 people! At the close of our time, we gathered in a large circle and prayed. While the pastor prayed, several people also joined in spontaneously. A young lady next to me prayed an intense prayer. The pastor's father went around, placing his hands on each of the North American's shoulders while praying for us. It was a moving moment. Then quite a few of the young people got in vehicles with us (one vehicle that seats 17 had between 25 and 30 in it). We went up to a high point in the mountains overlooking the city. There the young people from the church led in a prayer time for their city and for our time with them. Then we got up early this morning and drove as far as we could up the extinct volcano Chimborazo (20,000 feet in elevation) and then walked up (at times it seemed straight up!) for another kilometer or so. We got back about lunchtime and ate some sandwiches. We have the afternoon off and then we're headed to a city park this evening with the young people from the church for an evangelistic outreach event they've organized.

I'm not sure what my friend from the U.S.A. had in mind when he said, "There's nothing to do in Riobamba."

photo of me on mountain
top holding handfull of snow

Up at about 17,000 feet on Chimborazo
Monday, March 23, 2009
Yesterday we went to church with the Nazarene congregation in Riobamba with whom we spent Friday evening and then part of the day on Saturday. They have really gone out of their way to incorporate the foreigners (us) into their services and events. In one weekend I've never had so many people lay their hands on my shoulders and pray for me. They've really insisted that we foreigners not clump together but rather scatter out among their group.

Yesterday afternoon we went to a small town at the base of a volcano that erupted about 10 years ago. That eruption destroyed a village of about 300 families. The evangelical relief and development organization, Samaritan's Purse, built homes for 100 of those families at the edge of another town. The program director of Samaritan's Purse in this area is a longtime Nazarene. So, he's very interested in trying to get a Nazarene congregation started in this new housing settlement. Yesterday afternoon we walked around that development and talked to some of the people living in the new houses. It was awesome to view the power of that volcanic eruption. It was also awesome to see the hand of God at work through His people to provide homes for displaced families.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
For my Italian friends

Uno dei miei amici italiani mi ha castigato su Facebook perché scrivo sempre in inglese — va bene, "castigato" può essere una parola troppo forte. In ogni caso, eccovi qualcosa in italiano. Vi prego di scusarmi i tanti errori che senz'altro appariranno in queste poche righe.

Per questa primavera Barbara ed io siamo in Ecuador, un paese della Sud America. Per alcuni anni sono stato professore di missiologia in un università nazarena negli stati uniti. Questa semestre per me é un semestre sabbatico. Ho scelto di passarla cercando di imparare in un modo migliore la lingua spagnolo. La scuola biblica nazarena in Quito (la capitale di Ecuador) ha una scuola di lingua spagnolo per stranieri.

Allo stesso tempo abbiamo l'opportunità di essere coinvolte nell'opera delle chiese nazarene ecuadoriane. Ecuador é un paese in cui la Chiesa del Nazareno sta sperimentando una crescita enorme. Vent'anni fa, c'erano soltanto 10 or 20 comunità Nazareni qui. Adesso, ci sono più di 120. Che privilegio vedere l'opera di Dio in questa paese.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Yesterday evening we drove out of Riobamba for about an hour to a church in a Quechua village on a mountainside. Across the valley on an opposite mountainside was another Nazarene church. The two churches faced each other. As we stood there looking across the valley at the other village and its church building, Kim Haddon, a Mission Corps volunteer here in Ecuador told me that when both churches are having service you can hear the singing from one in the other.

The music in the service yesterday evening was very different from what one would hear in either the U.S. or in Spanish-language churches here in Ecuador. It wasn't just the words. It was the style (and however else you describe music). All the women had shawls of about the same color and the men all wore ponchos. Both men and women wore hats.

Barbara and I had a chance to talk at length with one of the men of the congregation because he rode back into Riobamba as our guide (a rainstorm had made the mountainous dirt road on which we went too muddy to attempt a return trip so we had to take a different route) and ate supper at a chicken restaurant with the group. Later Barbara and I commented to each otherabout how rural agricultural people in third-world situations seem to grasp so much of scripture better than many supposedly educated North Americans we have known.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Yesterday we drove down out of the Andes mountains from the city of Riobamba to the coastal seaport city of Guayaquil (Ecuador s largest city). We will be here until Sunday when we return to Quito. It was quite a trip down the mountains. My ears were popping like they do in airplanes.

The trip was supposed to take about five and a half hours. It took more than nine. The roads were bad and there was also a lot of construction going on (it is an election year!). Then because the 13-passenger Sprinter was totally full, all of our luggage was in a carrier on top. Because of the rough roads the carrier and the road's steep incline, the carrier kept creeping forward with its load of luggage and we had to spend some downtime readjusting it.

The climate here is what you would expect at the Equator — warm and muggy. That is very different from what we have been used to up in the Andes mountains.

One highlight of today was a trip to a park in downtown Guayaquil that is filled with iguanas, hundreds of them laying in the trees and lounging on the grass of the small park. They would let you touch them but they were not exactly cuddly little things.

photo of me with an iguana
Saturday, March 28, 2009
The Ecuadorians would be horrified at how much food is thrown away in the U.S. in homes and restaurants. He,re if you wind up not wanting all the food on your plate, you offer it to everyone else at the table. That came home to me a day or two ago when we were at a restaurant and there was some food left over. One of our Ecuadorian language teachers, Lucy Olivo, got a Styrofoam take-home box. As we were loading into a vehicle Lucy noticed a poor (and perhaps homeless) man on the corner. She gave the box of food to him! That is a far better way of doing things than just dumping it in a garbage can as we North Americans are wont to do.

I have also been amazed at the importance given to corporate prayer here. The youth group at the church in Riobamba where we spent five nights earlier this week has a 3 a.m. prayer meeting every morning for a week each month. Those young people are so committed to that prayer meeting that a good-bye party for us broke up at about 9 p.m. because they needed to get to bed in order to be up for that 3 a.m. prayer meeting. No wonder that church is growing and has an aggressive outreach program among young people!
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Last night our group went to a youth group service in Guayaquil. That served as our worship time for today since we had to leave at 8 a.m. this morning for what turned out to be a 10-hour ride from the coast back up into the Andes mountains and then northward along the mountain ridges to Quito. At one point we were above the tree line in the mountains! We had a gorgeous view of a couple of Ecuador's volcanoes (there are 25 extinct and active volcanoes in this country).

Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest city; Quito is the second largest. I was therefore surprised that the road connecting the two cities was not in better condition. On parts of it coming up into the mountains, the blacktop surface had disintegrated into just gravel.

Marco, the fellow who lives in the district center in Guayaquil that has some rooms where our group stayed spent some months in Italy earlier in his life. So, Marco spoke Italian. That was fun to chatter along with him and have other members of our group stare darkly at us because, while they speak English and Spanish, they did not know Italian (and probably assumed we were talking about them).
Monday, March 30, 2009
As we were leaving Guayaquil yesterday morning we passed by a small lumber yard. It had the usual boards and then a large bin of bamboo — big, long pieces of bamboo. By "big," I mean four to five inches in diameter, and by "long," I mean 15 feet or so. Bamboo, which is classified by biologists as a "grass," is an important resource in Ecuador for use in construction as well as for export. In fact, there are bamboo "reforestation" projects going on in Ecuador like there are for trees in other countries.

Structures built entirely or in part with bamboo range from very simple houses for the poor to elegant buildings and pavilions. I have seen older buildings here in Ecuador where the plaster had cracked and fallen off. Underneath was bamboo (as opposed to the stud and lath construction one might find under plaster in U.S. buildings). Bamboo poles are used for support when pouring concrete ceilings and roofs. Large bamboo is split into board-like pieces and used like planks from large trees would be used elsewhere. There are about 450 species of bamboo native to Latin America.

Bamboo is fast growing. In 30 days after sprouting, they say it is at the right point for eating. In 6-9 months, it's perfect for making baskets. In 2-3 years, it is big enough for bamboo boards. In 3-6 years, it will have grown into those big, long poles that I saw that were ready to be used for construction. Maybe this is why Oscar Hidalgo Lopez, a Colombian architect, has called bamboo "the gift of the gods."

photo of book about
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
In one of my notes last week from Guayaquil, I mentioned going to the "iguana park" in that city. Anderson Godoy Salguero, a young man from Colombia who was one of four students from the Seminario Nazareno in Quito accompanying us on the trip, asked in a comment why I didn't say anything about the "clean turtles."

Here's the story: In the iguana park was a pool of water with some fish in it and some large turtles (at least a foot in diameter). While we were there marveling at all of the iguanas (iguanas on the grass, iguanas on the sidewalks, iguanas in the trees!), a couple of city employees were there washing the turtles one by one. They would grab them by the tails, pick them up and scrub the backs of their shells with a brush, and then put them in another part of the pool. Why? I don't know.

Does anyone have any idea why they were washing the turtles?

I wonder if the iguanas felt left out? After all, the park is nicknamed after them, not after the turtles.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Carla, a student from Venezuela at the Seminario Nazareno in Quito, accompanied us on our recent trip to Riobamba (a city in Ecuador's Andes mountains) and Guayaquil (a seaport that is Ecuador's largest city). Carla is one talented lady who has great leadership skills. One day during the trip I asked her what her future plans were in terms of ministry. "I'm hoping to be a missionary," she said.

I thought back some years to a denomination-wide offering in the Church of the Nazarene in which funds were raised to open Nazarene work in Venezuela. We've come full circle, haven't we? Now, the Church of the Nazarene in Venezuela is sending out some of its best young people as global missionaries.

Carla understands that the road ahead will not be easy. She said she had been told that it was easier for North Americans to become Nazarene missionaries than it was for people elsewhere in the world. I tried to assure her that if God was leading her in that direction, the right doors would open for her.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I am still marveling over our visit Wednesday to the Aurelio Espinosa Polit museum. It has very few visitors. One of the students asked our guide about that and he explained that one of the reasons they don't publicize the museum is that they do not have the funds to put in security cameras or to hire guards to be in the various rooms. So, they are really vulnerable to theft.

There are three things that struck me about the museum. The first was a collection of 12,000 flowers and plants collected throughout Ecuador and dried by an Italian Jesuit priest about a hundred years ago. He meticulously cataloged all those plants with scientific notations. Some of those plants are now thought to be extinct.

The second thing that struck me was an amazing restoration project being carried on by a dozen or more people with the antique books of the museum. With some funds from the Spanish government, these people were restoring books damaged by fire, insects, humidity, and even because they were printed on faulty paper. Our guide took us into the area where they were working. They had masks and gloves on and were using tweezers and tiny brushes and mysterious liquids and tapes and stuff.

The third amazing thing was a butterfly and moth collection lining both sides of a narrow hall. All other butterfly collections I have seen were glass cases in which the butterflies or moths were lined up in neat rows. Not these! One glass case had butterflies forming the flag of Ecuador. Another had a car design; another butterflies/moths forming a sunset. And on and on. Not only were the butterflies and moths themselves amazing, but the designs seemed to highlight the diversity and colors of the butterflies and moths even more. I kept wanting to shout, "Yahweh is an amazing Creator!" It is clear that He is very creative and that He enjoys His creation!

photo of artistic display of
butterflies in exhibit case

Butterflies in a rainbow design
Sunday, April 5, 2009
I went downtown yesterday on the bus and then the trolley. One of the trolley stops was "Mariana de Jesus." That was a young lady who lived in the early 1600s here in Quito. She was canonized as a "saint" by the Roman Catholic church for what are considered extreme acts of devotion.

Mariana de Jesus would wear clothing filled with needles so that her skin would be pricked and would bleed. I've seen those garments in a museum in downtown Quito. Mariana actually had people nail her to a cross for hours at a time. It is said that as she walked the streets of Quito with blood dripping on the ground, flowers would miraculously spring up where each drop of her blood fell. She died at the age of 27.

Mariana de Jesus has been given the name "The Lily of Quito" for her acclaimed holy life, and because it is believed that she saved the city of Quito from the wrath of God by taking the punishment upon herself.

I've thought a lot about that young lady and some parallels with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel who also cut themselves. It's clear from being here that Mariana de Jesus de Paredes y Flores is an example to many Ecuadorians of Christian holiness. As I sat on that trolley yesterday at the "Mariana de Jesus" stop, I reflected on what an extremely troubled young lady she must have been. It is sad that here in Ecuador she is considered as the pinnacle of holiness.

paintingo of Marianna de
Jesus holding a flower

Mariana de Jesus with one of the miraculous flowers that sprang up where her blood dropped on the ground.
Monday, April 6, 2009
It's election time in Ecuador. Campaigning began two or three weeks ago for elections that will be held on April 19. More than a dozen political parties have fielded candidates for national, provincial, and city government offices. The faces of the candidates are plastered all over buildings, buses, and billboards. People stand on street corners waving flags and handing out literature. Like elections elsewhere, there seems to be no sober discussion of substantive issues.

The one thing that is different about Ecuador is the use of numbers to identify parties. I think most of the parties do have an official name, but those names are not used. Instead, you see only numbers used: "Vote for list 60!" and "Vote for all of list 35." The numbers were not assigned in order. It's my understanding that a political party can pick any number it wants so long as that number is available. So, yes, there is a number 1, but there is also a number 155. The current president's party is number 35.

I'd be interested in knowing the reasoning behind why the parties have picked the numbers they are using.

Ecuador's coat of arms with eagle and flags

Ecuador's coat of arms
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
We got the news late last night that my aged mother-in-law, Lucile Reed, passed away. One project this spring is to read the Bible through in Spanish. I am on target to finish in about 10 days. One of the passages I read today was Psalm 144. It has these words (that are just as beautiful in English as they are in Spanish):

Praise be to the LORD my Rock . . . He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge. . . LORD, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow. . .. I will sing a new song to you, my God . . . blessed is the people whose God is the LORD.+

The next few days will be busy with all of the arrangements that will need to be made. We solicit your prayers.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
With the news that my mother-in-law has passed away, yesterday was filled with all kinds of thoughts and conversations about a trip back to the U.S., brainstorming about funeral arrangements and other issues to be taken care of such as caring for the scheduled sessions of the class that I'm teaching here.

In a conversation with Carla, one of the Colombian students here, concern was expressed that we were going to miss my mother-in-law's funeral. In Colombia, as in many other countries of the world, burial often takes place within 24 hours of a person's death and no later than 36 hours. I tried to explain to her that it is not unusual in the U.S. for a funeral to be a week or even 10 days after a person's death. I could tell from her puzzled look that she thought we were pretty strange.

Cemeteries here look much different from those in the part of the U.S.A. where we live. The ones here in Ecuador are somewhat reminiscent of those we saw in New Orleans years ago on a visit there. They seem very crowded with many of the burial places above ground. Indeed, the cemeteries here often have walls with rows of niches into which the caskets are placed. A stone cover is then cemented in place over the opening. That stone cover will serve as the tombstone with the appropriate data carved into it.

photo of cemetary
structure with niches for caskets

Ecuadorian cemetery structure with rows of openings for caskets
Thursday, April 9, 2009
My mother-in-law's funeral will be Saturday, April 18, at 1 p.m. at the Mercer-Adams Funeral Home in Bethany, Oklahoma.

In lieu of flowers, her children Barbara and Gerard are asking that people make a donation to the international child development programs of Compassion International. That organization is based is Colorado Springs and is one to which my in-laws Paul and Lucile Reed donated many hours of time when they lived there. It is also an organization that provided a lot of assistance to the elementary school children of the Church of the Nazarene in Haiti when we were missionaries there.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Two friends of ours, Jim and Janice McCaslin, arrived from the U.S. to spend a long weekend with us. It was interesting to hear some of their reactions as we drove in from the airport last night. One of the things they commented on was all of the overhead wires. They were right. None of the telephone or electric writing here is underground. Everything is up on poles or attached to buildings and this is a compact city so there is virtually a rat's nest of wires running overhead along and across the streets.

photo of jumble of
overhead wiring above street

Sample of overhead wiring in Quito
Sunday, April 12, 2009
I've never been a big fan of various practices of the Easter season that have sprung up over time which were not a part of the way that First Century Christians commemorated the events of what is now called Holy Week. My feelings on that were reinforced on Friday when we attended a parade or a march here in downtown Quito.

photo of Good Friday march
of penitents in Quito, Ecuador

Penitents staggering under the weight of huge beams and crosses
Thousands of people lined the streets of Quito as a very long march of "Los Cucuruchos" (or penitents) all dressed in purple looped through the old colonial part of the city. Some were staggering under the weight of huge crosses. Several had made crowns of thorns out of barbed wire and jammed them on their heads. Some had long strands of barbed wire wrapped tightly around their upper torsos so that blood was drawn. Quite a few had long lengths of heavy chains attached to their ankles. What looked to be one entire family — women and children included — were staggering along with one heavy cross. Many of the men were stripped to the waist and were beating their backs and raising red welts with branches from a bush whose leaves cause an itchy rash on bare skin. Most were walking barefoot. The crowd became wildly enthusiastic when a statue of the Virgin Mary was carried by. People watching from balconies and windows along the parade route threw handfuls of rose petals at that statue.

To be one of the "penitents," a person had to apply to the central cathedral in Quito. Those chosen to be in the parade were those with the most grievous sins and/or bad habits from which they wanted to be cleansed.

The atmosphere was both somber and festive. For instance, there were people selling umbrellas, candy, suckers, and even bottled water wandering up and down the route, shouting out their wares.

barbed wire crown of thorns
on man's head in Good Friday parade
Barbed-wire crown of thorns
Monday, April 13, 2009
For all of my, life I've been one of the short people in the room. I'm always one of those who get pushed to the front of the group photo. It's different foro me here. The indigenous peoples of Ecuador were/are shorter than me! We spent all day Saturday in Otavalo which is a major craft market town for the Quechua Indians. It was amazing to see all the people that could walk under my outstretched arm without having to duck.

We had a two-hour bus ride to get to Otavalo. One fascinating thing about it was the vendors that would get on for a short ride between two stops to sell snacks and drinks. It was almost like being on an airplane with the flight attendants coming down the aisle with drinks and peanuts!

photo of passenger bus in

Our bus to Otavalo
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Is the church to be counter-cultural or is it better to attempt to create a Christian culture from a position of power?

Yesterday was a tourist day. We went with our friends, the McCaslins, up a gondola car ride to the top of a tall mountain which is actually part of the volcano Pinchicha. In the afternoon we went walking around Colonial Quito or Old Town as it is sometimes called. We found a delightful restaurant for a late lunch in an atrium of what used to be the Palace of the Archbishop. The restaurant was called "The Friar's Café."

The huge Palace of the Archbishop sits on the main plaza or square right next to the presidential offices. For years, that building was the headquarters of the Roman Catholic church in Ecuador. It fills one side of Independence Plaza with a building housing the President and a lot of government offices filling another side. A large Catholic church nearly fills another side of that plaza.

That huge "palace" and the church opposite it typify the internal battle or struggle which Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have had to decide whether they are to be (1) a part of the power structure, influencing and even dictating culture from a position of power or (2) whether the Church is to be a counter-cultural force with a prophetic voice speaking against culture when it fosters values at odds with the Gospel. It is a struggle in which Protestants in the U.S. now find themselves involved as they debate about how hard they should fight to keep a "Christian America."

In Ecuador, part of that internal struggle about the Church's identity vis-a-vis economic and political powers can be seen in the fact that in the 1600s the Jesuit religious order ("Society of Jesus") actually imported slaves from Africa to work plantations on the land they owned. Another part can be seen in the amount of gold used in the churches in downtown Quito (two tons were used in one church alone, an amount of gold worth almost nine million dollars today)) as the church attempted to build cathedrals that mimic the glory of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem.

photo of archbishop's

Archbishop's Palace in Quito
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Quito sits in a valley between a whole bunch of mountains. As it has grown, it has gone up the mountainsides a little ways but for the most part, it has had to grow in length rather than diameter. It is much more compact than its counterparts in the U.S.A., but with 1.3 million inhabitants, it is still a very long city.

Fortunately, it has good public transportation. There is a network of buses — privately owned but licensed by the city. There are electric buses or trolleys as they are called. They also have a network of diesel-powered buses that are double-long and hinged in the middle. In addition to these larger vehicles, bright yellow taxis are readily available and quite inexpensive. The interesting thing about the taxis is that paying for one is a bit like haggling in the market. They all have meters in them but sometimes the driver prefers to leave the meter off and haggle with you on the price. Then, the meters — although supposedly certified by the city — don't register the same. Yesterday, for instance, we went to a restaurant in a taxi. At the end of the trip to the restaurant, the meter said $2.70. At the end of the trip home, the meter said $5.60. We complained a bit on that return trip and only paid $5.00 (but still paid too much!)

photo of taxicab and hinged or
articulated bus in Quito

Taxi in front of one of the hinged buses
Friday, April 17, 2009
The things that make up a culture are more than foods, clothing, language and transportation. Those are the things people seize on as what differentiates one culture from another. Such items are, however, just the externals of a culture. A culture includes a lot of deeper things such as how relationships are treated.

At 4:30 on Wednesday morning, as we walked out of our little apartment on the seminario campus in Quito, we were met by Lucy Olivo, one of our language teachers. She had gotten up way before dawn just to ride to the airport with us. Lucy had already been by our apartment the evening before to say good-bye. But, there she was in the dark, ready to make a 20-minute ride with us through Quito to the airport. At the airport there were long hugs, a reminder that God made us to live in relationship with others.

photo of smiling lady wearing
baseball cap

Lucy Olivo, one of our language teachers
Saturday, April 18, 2009
My mother-in-law's funeral is today. Funerals are a reminder of the frailness and uncertainty of life. However, they are also a reminder of something about the character of God that has sometimes been called His unchangeableness and sometimes His dependability. As I've been thinking about that this morning, I thought of the visit we made to the equator in Ecuador just a few days ago with friends Jim and Janice McCaslin.

Jim was really taken by one demonstration regarding how the equator affects water draining out of a tub. Right on the GPS-established equator ten miles north of Quito, the water drained straight down with no vortex or swirl. The tub was moved about eight feet north of the equator, and a counter-clockwise swirling vortex appeared in the water as it drained out. Eight feet south of the equator, as the water began draining from the same tub, it began moving in the other direction and a clockwise vortex appeared.

This was not a happenstance or a magicians's trick. The little museum there at the equator does that demonstration many times each day, and the result is always the same. It's a reflection in nature of what has been called the "dependability" of God.

photo of water swirling down a drain

Vortex in drain
Friday, April 24, 2009
Sunday is election day here in Ecuador. On the ballot are candidates for the president and vice-president, attorney general, national legislature seats, mayors, and city councils. The campaign opened a few weeks ago. That's somewhat different from the U.S. where political campaigns often start as much as two years in advance of the election. Another difference here is that the voting age is 16.

People here are REQUIRED to vote, except for those over 65 and for illiterates. If they do not vote, they can be fined for as much as $250. If I understood a television news report correctly this morning, even many of those in jail will be voting. I believe the news report was about how they were going to set up voting booths in the jails.

The national voting commission has been doing a lot of commercials on television on "how" the voting will be done.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Not long before coming to Ecuador in early January, I set myself a goal of reading the entire Bible in Spanish this spring. I recently completed that project. Yeah! While it was a good Spanish language learning project it was also helpful to read Scripture in large chunks. Too often we are content just to zero in on one or two sentences. Recently, I heard someone scolding preachers because they emphasize how important the Bible is and then they spend only the first 45 seconds of their sermons actually reading from the Bible and then 45 minutes talking about it.

I used one of those "Read the Bible Through in One Year" charts, doing about four days worth of reading material every day. My daily "chunks" of Bible reading consisted of about 4 chapters from the New Testament, 4 chapters from the "wisdom" literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs), and 8 or more chapters from the rest of the Old Testament.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Monday evening I went to the home of Stan and Sherri Hall for supper along with a few others from the seminario. The group included a student couple from Colombia, Manuel and Marcela, and a young man, Salomòn, who runs the small convention center operation on the seminario campus. As we ate, someone mentioned that Manuel and Marcela along with the Halls and Salom&ograqve;n were brainstorming about starting a new church in Quito.

It is not unusual for a student here at the seminario to dream of planting a new church. It wasn't unusual for ministerial students in Haiti to have that as their goal. It is not, however, common for a ministerial student at SNU to have planting a church as a dream. Most often, U.S. ministerial students dream of leading an existing congregation. I wonder why. We often speak of the U.S. culture as being entrepreneurial in ways that many other cultures are not. Yet, at least in this particular context, ministerial students in other cultures seem more entrepreneurial than U.S. ones.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Sunday was the new building inauguration day for the Restoration Nazarene Christian Community church here in Quito. The building is new to the church but it is not a new building. The Restoration Community church was started about a year and a half ago in the chapel of the seminario. When they began running more than 100, they were bursting at the seams in that chapel. They have been looking for another building and were thirty minutes away from signing a lease on a building when the district superintendent called them and said he had a proposition for them. That building had belonged to a congregation that had once been the largest Nazarene church in Quito.

Churches — even in a country like Ecuador where there has been phenomenal church expansion — often go through a cycle of birth, growth, solidifying gains, achieving a plateau, decline, and closure. The Holy Spirit can help leadership break that cycle. Still, sometimes churches do die. This large Nazarene congregation had withered and died. Now, the district was offering this abandoned building to the Restoration Community Church.

The offer was accepted and there was a hectic month of cleaning, painting, and repairing to get the old building in shape. On Sunday I sat behind a lady who had been a long-time member of that original congregation that had worshipped in that building. I watched her rejoice and weep on Sunday morning as that building once again was filled with about 200 excited worshipers. I thought of Ezekiel's vision of the valley of the dry bones and the Lord's question to him: "Can these dry bones live again?" On Sunday morning, the answer was a resounding "yes."
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Caution over swine flu has invaded Ecuador. Lots of people in places serving the public are wearing masks. That makes it very difficult for someone who is just learning a language to understand what people are saying.

Yesterday we were in El Bosque, a Quito shopping mall, with our friends Jo and Darrell Watkins. The Watkins were visiting us for 5-6 days. At the shopping mall, Jo was ordering lunch at a counter in the food court. She wanted lasagna and a drink of some kind. When her tray of food showed up, it had the drink she had ordered along with a bottle of water.

We took it back to the cashier to ask what had happened. Well, Jo's American accent had caused the young lady to hear "Dasani" (a brand of bottled water) rather than "lasagna." It is likely that the young lady had repeated the order to Jo (restaurant wait staff in Ecuador almost always repeat your order back to you). However, because of the young lady's mask, Jo didn't understand her and although I was right there, I didn't either. We got it all straightened out and had a good laugh over it.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Last night about 10 o'clock Barbara and I got on a bus in Buenos Aires for an all-night and all-morning ride to Iguazu Falls National Park in far northern Argentina. Not long after we got on board an attendant brought us supper and a coke. Then we settled in for the night. The seats reclined, but they did not lay all the way down. When we woke up this morning, we were still in the grassland pampas. It was terrain that looked somewhat like western Oklahoma. Then, gradually things began to change and we moved into more of a rain forest climate. We stopped about 10 o'clock this morning in a large bus station where we were treated to a latte and rolls (courtesy of the bus lines). Then, it was back on board until we arrived at 3 p.m. this afternoon. It was quite a way to see a great deal of Argentina! The bus was super tall and we looked down on everything, including trucks.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Last weekend we were in Peru. We flew into Lima and then took a three-hour bus ride south to a city called Chincha Alta. A coastal city of about 120,000 people, it is on the Pan-American highway, the same continent-spanning highway we were on in Quito! With some missionary friends who are with the Evangelical Free Church, we spent most of last Saturday wandering around an earthquake-destroyed part of the city talking with people and seeing some of the rebuilding process (it's slow). One family had been up since about 4 a.m. making tamales they were going to sell. We got to eat one of them (they wouldn't let us pay for it) and it was good. Almost all of the houses in that area had been constructed with simple adobe brick that was made without straw and had a lot of sand in it rather than being all clay. So, although the earthquake was one of the most severe ones, it did cause lots and lots of houses to crumble to the ground.

To rebuild the homes, our missionary friends are helping people truck in a higher quality clay for the adobe. Then, they're plastering the outside of them with a cement-based plaster to keep moisture from deteriorating them. They're also placing them on earthquake- resistant concrete foundations — actually, two foundations that can move back and forth on top of each other.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
It has been interesting to see and to sense the cultures of the different countries here in South America. They do all speak the same language (well, almost . . . there are some differences in vocabulary from country to country). I say "sense" because there are some things you feel more than are consciously aware of seeing. Although Argentina has a huge immigrant Italian population (up to 40% of the population has Italian roots), there are things about it that "feel" German or Austrian more than they do Italian. Of the three countries we've been in on this trip — Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina — Peru has "felt" the most Mexican, especially in terms of the economy and the vibrant life on the street at night. Ecuador has been the one with the most pervasive gentle indigenous (or Indian) feel to it.

Because we are south of the equator, it is winter here in Argentina. The weather in Buenos Aires seems a bit like what one would expect in Austin, TX during the winter months. Leaves on many of the trees have turned colors and a few have lost their leaves.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
One of the fascinating things here in Argentina is the ever-present maté tea. It's a tradition unlike any other dreink we've seen. It's not like the British tea time that occurs at a set hour. Argentinians carry a little thermos of hot water around under their arms at all hours of the day. In their other hand will be a little hollowed-out calabash gourd and a silver straw. The gourd will be filled with crushed maté leaves (it seems to be an herbal tea rather than the tea from India which the British taught us to drink). The little gourds will often be fancy on the outside with metal rims attached or feet or tooled leather exteriors added.

I haven't seen people drinking maté at meals. Maté is almost always shared with someone. So, you'll see two people sitting on a bench sharing a maté or two clerks in a store sharing a mate or a bus driver and his helper sharing one. The same silver straw is shared by the two people with the gourd being passed back and forth between them. The hot water in the gourd is replenished whenever it runs out with the same crushed leaves staying in the little gourd through many rounds of hot water.

mate tea in Argentina

Howard Culbertson,

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