At 7 a.m. on a runway in Quito on Monday, March 12...
The experience continues as each time I share a brief story or description of what transpired during those 10 days, I receive a unique reaction from the person who inquired about the trip. However, there is one reaction in particular, the implications of which have made a significant impression on me. After sharing how I enjoyed the primitive conditions and the challenges they presented, one young man innocently replied, "A nice break from reality, huh?"
This set me thinking. Is this truly how we in the United States perceive other cultures and foreign countries--as unrealistic, as fantasy worlds that don't truly exist, and if they do, exist as secondary and incorrect? Why do we push away other cultural philosophies, customs and social norms? Why do we insist the way our society and government and culture function is both the right way and the only way?
Our group was met with an entirely different mentality in Ecuador--one of embrace and not retreat. The moment we stepped off our bus on Sunday night, March 4, in the non-English-speaking village of Pano (six hours from Quito and deep in the jungle), we were surrounded by children who latched onto our hands, wrists and arms, welcoming us and asking our names. Throughout the week, members of this intimate community and the church inquired about our faith, our studies, our families and friends. They wanted to understand who we were, where we lived, why we had come and whether we liked the place they proudly call home. Our North American eyes didn't see much: dilapidated houses, no running water, no cars. Our eyes had a lot of adjusting to do.
The people not only cared deeply about our culture; they invited us into their own, rich with Spanish and still very much practiced native Quichua Indian roots. At the farewell service they held for us on our last night in Pano, we lined up across the front of the church for the pastor, his wife, and the women who had cooked for us all week long to tie hand-woven necklaces around each of our necks, kiss us and bless us in the name of Christ.
On Friday morning, March 9, we waved to the children who were sprinting after our bus, shouting "adios." Every half hour or so, remote villages tucked way in the misted Andes Mountains flashed past my window on the drive back to Quito. Many of the small cinder block, wood and scrap-metal shacks had laundry hanging on their porches or strung between trees. The brightly colored skirts, tops and pants stood out against their drab surroundings, much like the spirits of the people with whom we had just spent a week of our lives. They possess little in the way of material things. But they are wealthy beyond measure in the spiritual realm. They are a vibrant people, a generous and selfless community, beautiful in every sense of the word.
The young man who reacted to my experience got it wrong, just like we did before we went. This trip was not an escape from, but rather a journey into, reality. The people of Ecuador did not just want to show us their ways of worship or be shown ours. They embraced both and wanted to combine them; to worship together, as one, in spirit and in truth. That is the reality of the church universal. That is the reality of the body of Christ.