We were so glad our ministry partners Doug & Maureen Hovda were here in Loja and could attend the couples’ meeting at our church on September 21st. When the couples heard the Hovdas had been happily married and serving the Lord together for over 56 years, everyone paid close attention as they shared five key ingredients for a successful marriage. Afterward, our pastor shared how God had used the Hovdas to speak to him about the importance of: (1) taking time to listen as God speaks to us in our time alone with Him, and (2) committing to pray together daily as a couple. We thank to Lord for using the Hovdas that evening to impact the lives and marriages of many people at our church.
We enjoyed introducing the Hovdas and translating for them as they shared their testimony and special music with several groups both in the city of Loja and in rural areas. The theme of their creatively interwoven testimony was “You Are Never Too Old to Serve the Lord.” It was obvious from the comments we heard that God used this message to inspire many people to serve Him with excellence. One song they often sang was The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows. What a blessing to spend time with people like the Hovdas, whose lives reflect this wonderful truth.
Squirrel Monkey at zoo in Sucua, Ecuador
We hadn’t been to the jungle since our children were small, so we decided to make a trip to Misahuallí to see some monkeys and take a canoe trip on the Napo River before the new school year began. Traveling more than 20 hours by car, we saw some breathtaking sights as we traveled down out of the Andes Mountains and entered the jungles of Ecuador. Returning through Shell, Mera and Baños, we saw some awesome waterfalls and then enjoyed the return to the highlands, passing through the mist and clouds. Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, with snowcapped mountains, rugged beaches, cloud forests and jungles. Making brief stops in eight towns along the way, it was a trip down memory lane for Jeff and me that went back more than 22 years.
During our canoe trip on the Napo River we visited three communities. In the first community we saw how the natives of that area lived and trapped their food. The next stop was a rescue center for jungle animals trying to return to the wild. At our final stop, we got to see the colorful handmade pottery the area is known for and watch a demonstration by one of the ladies of how it is made. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes we experienced on this trip made us fall in love with Ecuador all over again. What a way to start the school year!
Nathanael with Blow Gun
Jeff in front of giant “Ceibo” tree
Shungu, our faithful companion riding a canoe down the Napo river.
We had a great VBS this year with over 85 kids in attendance. It was wonderful to see so many children we didn’t know come to Vacation Bible School. This year’s theme was “Jesus Loves Me.” Teens were also included in this VBS, which ran from Monday through Saturday. Our visitors from Lifebridge Christian Church shared their testimonies with the teen class. I know the teens loved hearing their testimonies, and I am sure that some of the children attending heard the Gospel possibly for the first time.
Kaitlyn as madrina of her Conservatory sports team
It was a sunny April afternoon at the Conservatory of Music here in Loja. All the students were in formation to march parade fashion around the campus. Some were in their sports uniforms, and others were dressed formally. The military band was there with all their regalia playing patriotic music. The atmosphere was like a carnival or parade. There was a table of judges and dignitaries viewing the students as they all marched in and formed lines according to their class section and age. They even had some athletes make a symbolic run around the soccer field and light a torch just like in the Olympics. Kaitlyn was elected to be the “Madrina” for her class. Being a “Madrina” is a bit like being a homecoming queen. It was a fun day and an opportunity to learn that the kick off for a small sports program can be a big thing in Loja!
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, which is the most important celebration of the year for Christians around the world. The people of Loja, where we live, are very religious. On Palm Sunday, “the faithful” form processions as they carry their palm branches to mass. During the mass the priest will pronounce a blessing on the palm branches. These palm branches will be saved and burned the following year, and the ashes will be placed on the forehead of each believer in the form of a cross. This takes place on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of lent.
Living in Loja makes me think about the Apostle Paul’s experience in the city of Athens (Acts 17). Athens was a very religious city where people loved to talk about religion and philosophy. On the one hand, we are grateful that we can share our faith openly with the people of Loja, and that they are usually open to discussing issues of religion and faith. On the other hand, just like the Athenians, there is a prevailing attitude of religious pride that can lull people into a false sense of security. Pray with us that, during this Holy Week, many people here in Loja will allow Christ to make His triumphal entry into their hearts.
So many people have asked us questions about our plant based (vegan, mostly raw) diet that I was encouraged to hold an exposition in our home. We were amazed that 40 people came out on a Sunday afternoon to learn how they can improve their health with good old fruits and veggies. It was a great opportunity to meet neighbors and deepen some friendships as well as share some Biblical truths. While there are no foods forbidden in the New Testament (with the exception of blood) it is interesting to note in Genesis 1:29-30 that the original diet of both man and beasts was plants. So do what your mother always told you… and EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!
The “old man” we made with our fellow missionaries.
New Year’s Eve in Ecuador is a time when families gather together, make a scarecrow like figure they call the “Old Man”, which represents the year coming to a close, and burn that figure. Sometimes they make their scarecrow look like someone they don’t like, or make the figure take on aspects of something they want to change in their lives. Others make their old man to look like political figures or to represent negative things that have happened during the year. New Year’s Eve is a time for family, friends, food and fireworks. It is just one more way of expressing that it is time to go “Out with the old, and in with the new!”
Burning our “old man”.
This “Old Man” is a politician riding in a burro-drawn cart. Sign reads “Burrocracia” (Bureaucracy).