As I am waiting to take off from Miami with Ever Be playing in my headphones, I figured it's a good time to start telling you all about the Justice Tour (as I try to hold back my tears as this song makes each moment of the last ten days go through my mind). Your praise will ever be on my lips. You father the orphan. Faithful you will be!
First of all, Jesus needs to be praised. He provided through many of you for me to be a part of the Justice Tour and I am so thankful to Him and each of you! Thank you isn't enough! Because of you (and my friends' sponsors like you), we were able to go show the love of Christ and meet spiritual and physical needs. Thank you! Thank you! You were very much a part of the great things that took place in Quito. We were a short-term team that left lasting impressions of Jesus and introduced people to existing ministries where they can continue to be fed and loved.
Let's recap a life-changing trip, which surpasses words... but I'll do my best! I think the easiest way to do this is to take it day by day (starting with Saturday, July 18, 2015). Jesus showed up every single day. I tried to update Facebook multiple times while we were gone and I'll expand on some of those here so some of this this may be a partial review for those of you who read those.
Our team from all over the US flew to Miami to meet (most of us for the first time). Little did I know how incredible these people were. I should have known knowing they were sacrificing their time, jobs, money, vacation days, and for one it was time away from her children. I also wasn't expecting to make such special friendships with some of the people I had just met. I knew we were all there with the same goal - to do something about the injustices in the world - and with Jesus at the center, so I should have known He would unite us for His Kingdom purpose in a special way.
We had a brief training and team building before we called it a night since we were leaving for the airport at 3:30 A.M.
After two flights we arrived in the center of the world and started our briefing, training, cultural sensitivity and welcome from the founders of GoInternational.tv, Greg and Christa Baca. These two people are incredible. They have moved their lives to Ecuador to bring truth, hope, justice and love to the least of these in some of the most creative ways! Traditional ways have their place, but Greg and Christa are reaching the lost with creative visual art campaigns, outreaches, having "church" in a nontraditional place, partnering with local ministries, training programs, serving the lost and broken, and traveling with teams all over the world. They are some of my new favorite people.
During our time that evening, Christa told us about a time their stranger-loving little boy, Zion, asked her why some people don't smile back or say hi when he does to them. He asked if they don't like him. She told him, "The person that needs the smile the most is the person that can't find the smile in them to smile back." What a great reminder!
Our first full day! After breakfast we rode the bus a little ways to an HIV orphanage. We can all learn so much from these children and from children all over the world in similar situations. They have so little, yet are so joyful. Not only were we able to play with the kids living there and bring them joy, but we get so much joy from being with them.
Lots of us are so quick to put up walls and to judge a certain group of people. Kids in places like this could do this and have a justifiable reason. Gringos get off a bus in front of their home (I'm sure it's not the first time), they come play and give them things and leave. Most of the time they'll never see them (us) again, yet they choose to interact with them and us and let us in their life for a brief period when they could think, "Here comes another group. They'll be gone soon. I don't want to get attached." And we could think the same thing. But instead, they paint our faces, school us in soccer, hold our hands, take pictures with us, nap on us, and laugh.
What a blessing these times are, and what lessons we can learn from these little ones who Jesus is crazy about. What good things do our walls keep out because we're afraid or getting hurt?
On the way there we stopped at the equator.
One of my favorite days! We were blessed by joining a ministry, Dunamis, which allows girls and women (ages 10-19ish) coming out of trafficking from safe houses to come and learn how to make jewelry and sew. This provides income as they sell the jewelry and other things they have created and they aren't having to give of themselves. After breakfast we went to Dumanis to meet the girls! One group was coming for the first time and another group was about to finish their 3 months. As the new girls came in, most of them carrying babies, my eyes got misty. You could see the heaviness on their face and in their eyes. These ladies sitting by me have endured things I can never imagine. They are someone's daughter, sister, friend, and some of them are now someone's mom. They have a child to take care of while trying to heal. Not one from someone they were in love with, but they kept it to love and raise anyways. One was only 2 weeks old.
We got to have a devotional, worship (Good Good Father in Spanish... talk about the Spirit moving), make jewelry and enjoy their company and the sweet kids. Then we all went to the zoo! This was so much fun! For most of them it was the first time! I wish I could share with you the excitement all around. God is good! I am so thankful for the things He makes new!
A couple days later Dunamis sent our group a note saying how much the girls loved it and were still talking about it. One girl was nearly ready to be done and go back, but after we all got to spend time together she was excited to stay.
If you would like to sew a seed into this ministry, contact me to find out how to do that!
Both Tuesday nights we went to ONE, which is a ministry Greg and Christa (and their Submerge team) started in a bar, House of Rock, in March. They are bringing Jesus to people who won't go to a church. Light doesn't need more light; the darkness needs light. This was so much fun. Throughout the week we invited people that we talked to at campaigns or the Night of Refuge.
We spent the morning worshipping as a team as we waited for the weather to clear up. After an incredible time together with Jesus, we started a busy day! We did two campaigns and served at a food bank in between. First, we did the vision campaign in Old Town. This was a beautiful plaza with lots of people walking around, tourists and locals, and pigeons everywhere. There were large historic churches near by... it looks like something you'd see in a movie and it's been in one before (I don't remember which one). You can see below what this campaign looked like. We drew quite a crowd; people would walk up and stare, take pictures, and talk our team. This was my first time to be a part of something like this. I love Go International's creativity and desire to draw people in and to start conversations.
The sign on the left is a Helen Keller quote that says, "It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision." Since people were so curious and drawn to what we're doing, we were able to engage with them and talk to them about the statement we were making. In this case, we talked to people about the vision they have for their life and that Jesus has plans for all of us. Sometimes these conversations go deeper and people open up about their lives and our team was able to pray with people as we did these throughout the week. One thing Greg told us on our first night, which is something I will always remember, is the importance of being content with being part of the process. Not every conversation we have will end in a salvation prayer. It is said that it takes an average of 7 conversations, granted that may not be the case every time, but if we are conversation 1-6 and someone else is 7, we were a part of the process of them coming to know Jesus. People in Quito are more social and willing to stop and talk. This was so nice! People are often turned off my being approached by a foreigner asking, "Do you know Jesus?" But when they approach you, they are willing to talk and the campaign draws people in and starts a conversation.
Later that night we did the Humans Are Not for Sale campaign in Plaza Foch, an open area in front of a coffee shop surrounded by bars, restaurants, nightclubs, etc. Go International has had the blessing of being permitted to use this location for a lot of their ministry events.
I’ll be real; I struggled with this campaign before we even left the hostel. I cried. Some girls on my team were about to dress up as women selling themselves and we were going to tell people why any kind of trafficking isn’t ok. That’s heavy. What if people disagreed with us? In an ideal world we wouldn’t need to address an issue such as this, but we have to be realistic and acknowledge that this is a real industry and it’s growing and it’s ruining lives.
Of course people stopped to find out what we were doing. Why were these girls standing there freezing? This night wasn’t about praying the salvation prayer with everybody we talked to. We were there to shine a light on a real injustice in the world and talk to people about what we were created for – freedom! When we got on the bus, the water works were working. What if our girls were really the ones selling themselves that night? What if the kids running around at that hour of the night asking if we wanted to buy their candy were ours? (Like the one pictured below. She is trafficked by somebody.) Would we do what we could to get them off the street? We have to start somewhere.
Night of Refuge day and night! Before we started making the decorations for the party, we visited another ministry that works with women in/coming out of trafficking/prostitution. Part of our time there was training, just simply how to interact and make the ladies feel comfortable, but the majority of the time was hearing the heart of the woman who started the ministry and how the Lord led her to where she is now – helping women all over the world.
Here are my notes from our time listening to her heart:
God plus you is enough - every day of the week.
Don't think, "I'm one person. What can I do?"
She had a vision once of the Lord showing her different rooms of Heaven. The first was the Intimacy Chamber where she would grow close to the Lord and become intimate with him – learning His heart. After that, she would be welcome in the Weeping Room where her heart would break for what breaks His. Next was the Strategy Room… after we are in tune with God's heart, He can entrust us with His plan and perfect strategy.
We are meant to be powerful overcomers...
Jesus told her she wouldn't fit through the door to the Strategy Room... There was too much of her. We have to be stripped of ourselves.
After spending 3 years living in the slums with the dying, she heard the Lord say, "Welcome to the Strategy Room."
This ministry has been built on the strategy of Heaven.
Matthew 24 - "just be found doing what you're supposed to be doing"
Matthew 25 - tells us what we are to be doing in the end times.
“Are we in the end times?" she said. "Who knows? And who honestly cares? Of the people that have ever lived, we are the ones it applies to the most!”
Invest in the oil that lights your fire. Don't slip into being a professional Christian.
Our miracles have been experienced when we're out on a limb.
What if your child was missing? You don't wake up and have a normal day. Every child on earth is God's real child and sin has ripped them from him. What we do for people, we do for Him, He doesn't see him them as the street girl, or the sinner, but his REAL child.
Start living like a son or daughter - be willing to take risks. Parents still love their children when they make mistakes.
See every person through the eyes of Jesus, as the baby that He wants to bring home.
Make the agenda of heaven the agenda of your life.
Justice isn't a mission trip; it's a way of life. It's the culture of Heaven.
Ministry website: Justiceisbeautiful.org
After an incredible time being poured into and having our hearts stirred, we went back to the base to start making decorations for the Night of Refuge. The theme for this night and the previous ones Go has done was Created for Freedom (in Spanish, of course). We made tissue paper flowers for a photo booth background, paper cranes and desserts, all while our hearts were getting excited for the party we were getting ready for. Everything we were doing was to have a cute dinner for women that might not have ever been to a party and to give them an evening to hear about their worth, Jesus, the ministry we had visited with earlier in the day, and a night off. When everything was finished, we hurried to put our dresses on and leave for a party with women and girls who are just like us. Growing up, they had dreams like we did. They are women loved by God and created for a purpose. They didn’t grow up dreaming to live a life selling their bodies.
This night is hard to put “on paper,” and I think the team would agree, but we try. We were ready to love. Most of us didn’t know what to expect, but we knew Jesus loves these women and we wanted to show them that. We didn’t act surprised by what they were wearing, we didn’t talk about their job, we simply wanted to spend the night honoring them as women and talk to them about their dreams, their families, their childhood memories, their favorite sport, their favorite things to cook… things that you and I would talk about. We were expecting about 70 women but we had 95 attend! This will forever be one of my favorite nights. The little restaurant we rented out was soon packed to the max with a Justice Tour lady and translator sitting with each table of women. As I tried to start conversations, I was discouraged because so many of us needed a translator and sometimes there just wasn’t enough to go around. Regardless of silences, I’ve never been in a room of more appreciative people.
We all probably have our stereotypes and an image that comes to mind when someone says “prostitute,” I did, but it has changed. Some of the women we had dinner with would have fit what probably comes to mind, or what the movies portray, but 90% of the women looked like modestly dressed moms – someone that has children (or even grandchildren), takes care of a family, and blends in with the women of Quito. Some daughters and mothers were together. Some were young women there with their friends and some were middle-aged women with their friends. The ladies I talked to had children and dreams.
It didn’t take long for the crowd to be too much for the few waiters to handle, so some of our team became waitresses while some had conversations. As I was running back and forth getting drinks, I reminded myself that even if I couldn’t say much or didn’t have a translator to assist in having a lengthy conversation, I was serving women who deserve it and Jesus was showing love through us regardless of the task we were doing.
When I asked a few ladies what their dreams were and if they wanted to have their picture taken, they eagerly said yes and wrote their dreams down. If I was to ask most of my friends what their dreams were, I’m sure they’d shoot for the stars. These ladies told me their dreams were: “to be a cook,” “to do anything other than what I’m doing right now,” “to study,” and “to be a maid – I’d clean anywhere that would open the door.” This was humbling and I know we serve a Heavenly Father than can exceed their dreams.
After a three-course meal, lots of laughs and conversations, one of our leaders gave her testimony about overcoming difficulties and loneliness through Jesus and a women from the ministry I mentioned earlier talked about the help they offer. We ended the night with a short dance party; I’m not much of a dancer but I don’t think anyone was judging (thankfully.) Our bus driver took any of them that wanted to (and how many would fit) on the bus to see where they could go if they wanted to be a part of the ministry they had just heard about. We didn’t get to ride but we heard that many of them said they were going and were so excited. This night could have changed their life and we can pray that even if they didn’t make a choice that night to go, the Lord will continue to move in their hearts and bring hope and restoration to their lives.
Our plans changed for this day. We weren’t able to go do what we had planned so we ran up (not literally) to the mountaintop. What an incredible sight. This point is higher than any in the US.
After we did a few things as a team, we went to a park by a mall. Greg explained to us that we would be doing something they call “Go-Yo” (Go on Your Own). We split into our Go groups of 3 and went out to do whatever – telling people about Jesus on our own (something we all realized we were capable of doing where we lived). We had an hour before we had to be back at the park for a campaign. As we walked we talked about several different ideas and decided to talk to people about what they would change in their life if they could change one thing. (That’s what the paper in the photos below says.) It took us a little while at the mall to print one sheet of paper, but our first conversation started there with the young ladies working. After we left there we stopped and talked to a guy sitting by himself. He said he wouldn’t change anything and said it was all about his perspective. As we walked away, I saw an older lady with a little girl standing by the front door of the mall. I asked my crew if we could go talk to them. As we approached her with our question, she said “everything.” (She would change everything about her life.) She started telling us that nothing was going well and she didn’t feel like there was much hope. As we kept talking, one of the girls from our team had a vision of the lady baking so she asked if she likes to bake. The lady’s face lit up and she smiled and said, “Yes! I love it!” We’re not sure why the Lord showed us that, but it allowed us to connect with her and for the Lord to show her his attention to the details and desires of her heart. We prayed with her and her granddaughter and I am thankful for the divine opportunity that the Lord set up for us. These are things we can pay attention to in our everyday lives. People all around us might need us to pay attention to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Later that evening we did the Dream Campaign in Plaza Foch, the same place we did Humans Are Not For Sale. It was exciting to hear about the dreams people have and encourage them with the fact that the Lord has plans for all of our lives. This draws people in and allows us to talk to them about their dreams and the God that has placed them inside us. Photos of their dreams are on dreamcampaign.com. Jesus never failed to bring people by that need to be encouraged and reminded of His love.
Girls’ day! We started Saturday by setting up a super cute brunch for women that have connected through ONE. This ministry (“Bloom” in English) has been a dream of Christa’s and now that they have planted ONE, her dream can bloom! This morning of fellowship allowed these women to connect and realize they have women around them to walk this journey with them; we aren’t alone!
After brunch we hopped on the bus and went to a young ladies detention center. (For their privacy, I don’t have pictures.) We didn’t do anything fancy. We just spent time with them. They are girls just like those of us that were there, regardless of what they did causing them to be there. They came out to the basketball court area after we got all of our pat-downs out of the way. It was obvious at the beginning that they were skeptical of us, but I can’t blame them. We turned on some music and danced with them for a while; if the music stopped and you were still moving you were out! (I’m no dancer, but I made a few exceptions on this trip.) After a few rounds of that and some crazy looks (they wanted to salsa and we had gringo music), we broke up into small groups so that we could get to know the girls. We talked about our favorite colors, our favorite childhood memories, things we were praying for, and before we left we prayed together. Their sins are forgiven and I hope they better understood that after our short time together.
That evening we went back to Plaza Foch for the Life and Death campaign. As you can see below, it was quite the attraction. Our team got to hear a lot of ideas about what happens when someone dies! During our conversations, we would tell them what we believe about death based on the Word and Jesus coming to die for us and we gave them something to read for a more in-depth description. Our hope was to get people thinking about their eternity.
This was one of my favorite days and probably because my heart broke. Ironic, I know.
We headed out on the bus after breakfast. We played mafia for most of the bus ride until we got to Ambato (about 2 hours from Quito and half way to Baños where we spent our free day and a half). We stopped and walked over to a little house where the "Little People of Ambato" live. They are a "family" of 5; two are siblings and two are others that the government placed with them and built a house for them (I think). They all have some variation of mental disabilities and live with very little -- when I say very little, it's probably less than you're picturing -- and in an extreme lack of cleanliness. Although they have a house (still nothing compared to ours), they prefer to spend their time at the area in the back, which is more like a shack or a place animals would stay. Our hearts started to break as we arrived. We weren't able to let them know we were coming because they don't have a phone, but some of our team had been by last summer so they knew getting some soup and cleaning supplies would be a good idea.
After we got there and all said hello, my heart started to break and the tears came. Our team split up so some could clean the house and some could spend time with them. I quickly volunteered to clean because I didn't want them to watch me cry. Jesus was breaking my heart for what breaks His -- all of our hearts really... I'm just glad some were able to smile and laugh with them while I wiped my face.
As a team, there's something about your hearts breaking together that brings you closer to the people you just met exactly a week ago. These teammates showed me Jesus. Some washed feet in a bucket, some fed them since a couple of them aren't capable of feeding themselves, our guys shaved their faces, and some of us cleaned the house and made the beds. It's hard to put this time in words... I can see it and hear it, but I wish I could take you there in my memory. Not everybody has what we have, and not everybody can do for themselves what most of us can. As Sam, one of my new favorite vocalists, played her guitar and sang, my friends were feeding them, taking their shoes and socks off to wash their feet in buckets, shaving the men's faces, trimming their nails... Others were cleaning a mold covered fridge, scrubbing the kitchen, and with some of my new favorite people we cleaning the bathroom, beat the blankets from the beds and hosed/scrubbed the bedroom rug -- all which gave the house a smell of urine. I could hear Sam singing worship music as we all did different things. Love was happening.
Even as I sit in my house right now and write this, it's not fair. That's what I kept telling myself while we were there and it's still true. It's not fair. We were born somewhere else, and because of that, we live different lives. We didn't ask to be born in the States and they didn't asked to be born in Ecuador and have no one to take care of them as they aged... Does it make you mad? I think it should make us mad. If it didn't bother us, we wouldn't do anything about the injustices in the world. Jesus knew there would be those who need help and those who need to do the helping. It's not time to feel guilty, but it's time for those of us that have more to do more. We don't have the lives we do so that we can simply enjoy them or feel guilty about them. We have the ability to help, so that's what we should be doing.
Nobody should live like the people we saw do. But as we worked and cried outside the bus, something inside me kept reminding me that even though things break my heart, make my eyes puffy, make me mad, remind me how fortunate we are and what's not fair, He is still good. While we may ask ourselves why bad things happen, these things break His heart, too, and we don't have to sit around and not do anything - even if it's for many or a few.
On Sunday evening we arrived in Baños, settled into our new hostel, and walked to a cute little restaurant for dinner. Baños is a cute South American town with little coffee places, candy stores, shopping places, bakeries, tattoo shops, places to rent four-wheelers, bridge jump, white water raft… all kinds of stuff. Hostels had signs that said “backpackers welcome”; that’s kind of the vibe it had – cute and adventurous but cozy at the same time.
After dinner we all had to decide what we wanted to do the next day so we could find a few people to do it with and sign up. My lovely friend Sarah said, “I want to get a tattoo and bridge jump.” So that was the plan. I was in. We spent a couple hours deciding what we wanted them to look like, I designed them and another girl found a reputable place online.
My day of adventure started with sleeping in a little bit. Some of the team got up at like 6 a.m. and went hiking, but that’s not really my gifting. (I’m not opposed to hiking but Ecuador is twice as high as Colorado, and that's too early.) I’m glad I got to spend the day with some people that felt the same way. Stephano, Sarah and I walked to the bridge we thought we would jump from (Key word “thought”). It was a beautiful view as you can see (below)… the water rushing over the rocks beneath it, the treetops in the clouds… beautiful. But, we chickened out. The place to stand on to jump was a small piece of wood hung over the edge. It was probably two feet wide and stuck out about a foot from the bridge. Some people walking by said they had just done it and that we should. Obviously they lived, but it still wasn’t enough. I wasn’t going to pay $18 to let some guy hook me to a rope and have me jump to my death. The view was worth it though! Next up, tattoos.
We found the place that had been researched, but guess what? They’re closed on Mondays, of course. There was another one next door but we knew nothing about it and hadn’t looked it up or seen a portfolio. We walked in and talked to him for a little while and he told us to come back in an hour and he’d be ready. At this point, I had told my mom before we left wifi that we were headed to the tattoo shop. The night before I had talked to her about it but I guess I wasn’t clear that Sarah and I wanted to get them together, which means here and now. When we asked to see a portfolio he told us it’s on Facebook, so we asked for the wifi password (probably the most used question any time we went somewhere). When I connected I got another text from mom that said “No, Gentry, not there! Wait until you get back! I hope you're joking!” I figured it was best to not respond at the moment. We went and had coffee then came back. Thank goodness for our friend and translator, Stephano! I kept telling the tattoo guy things to change and he didn’t speak much English. It was going to be permanent after all! He was a good sport though. I went first because I didn’t want to change my mind if Sarah said it was awful. (It wasn’t bad.) After it was all said and done I sent a picture to my mom and told her we did it. I’ll leave the rest for your imagination. I’m still living to tell you about it, so it could have been worse.
Most of this day was spent traveling back to Quito. We started our debriefing on the road since we had a few hours to spare. I don’t think there was a dry eye on the bus (except for maybe our bus driver, although he was super sweet so maybe not). We did the “hot seat” where everybody on the team listens to a few team members speak to them about what they have learned and seen in them during our time together. I could have raised my hand to speak about everybody! What an incredible group the Lord put together for this trip! And we all also talked about our “snap shot” – our favorite time/experience. Obviously I’m wordy so it was hard to choose just one thing!
When we got back to Quito we unpacked again and found some sushi and went to ONE. It was neat to spend our last night there because we spent our first night there; we got to see it grow just over the time we were there. On our last night we saw people we had talked to throughout the week and invited at our campaigns; there was also a lady from the Night of Refuge that came. What would happen if we invited people where we live to our church? That’s a question for myself, too.
Justice is needed all over the world. One person and place at a time we can do something about it.