Because We Were There
Medical Mission Trip to El Salvador, March 2019 – Kathy McClure
It had never occurred to me to go to El Salvador. It had never occurred to me to want to go there. But in January of 2019 a friend sent me a Facebook post that was asking for translators for a medical mission to El Salvador. He said "You should do this." So I contacted the lady who had posted the request to find out more information.
The trip would be in mid-March and would begin just a few days after my return from Ecuador. The price quoted wasn't too bad, and I figured I could do the "back-to-back work. So I started looking for flights. Nothing jibed with her schedule. So we e-mailed back and forth and finally got on the phone to each other. She wanted me to arrive more or less at the same time as everyone else did because of the logistics of in-country transportation. And she was adamant that I shouldn't do any travel alone in-country. Finally, she found me flights that worked, but only if I stayed over one night in San Salvador - which she wouldn't allow me to do alone. (Obviously, she didn't know me!). Finally a partner was found and the deal was made. I was to go to El Salvador.
I didn't know much about El Salvador and what I did know was bad. It was a country full of violence. It was not safe to be there. People got shot for no reason, and frequently. I also knew it was a mountainous country at the bottom of Central America and that there was a famous canal cut right through the country. That was about it.
At midnight I boarded a plane in Phoenix to fly to Atlanta to meet up with a bunch of folks I had never seen before to fly to a country I didn't particular want to visit. By chance I had watched a video on Facebook the day before, so I actually recognized the lady who heads up this mission. We arrived at San Salvador on time, but got delayed by customs who needed to check the medicines brought in in our luggage. We were there for hours. Another small group arrived to join us. The group was made up of people from Missouri, Kansas, Texas, and even one from Mexico. The youngest member of the team was about 12 and the oldest was close to 80 (and a newlywed).
It was late afternoon by the time we were ready to load the bus at the airport for the long drive to our destination. What awaited us was an old bus, highly over decorated, with school bus seats. It felt like perhaps it had air conditioning - for awhile. We crawled through San Salvador Friday afternoon traffic for what seemed like hours. With one final push through a knot of cars, trucks and buses, we were able to pick up speed and from there we went to our top cruising speed of about 45 MPH. The drive took us through small towns, open farmland, grazing land, and forest before it got too dark to see. But suddenly we were there.
Our home base was La Palma, a small city in the department of Chalatenango in northern El Salvador. Even in the darkness I could tell the hotel was wildly painted. But I was too interested in finding a bed and maybe (finally) something to eat. I found both. La Palma calls itself "la cuña de paz," the cradle of peace because it was the location of peace talks between the government and guerrillas in 1984. Its walls are vividly painted inside and out after the style of artist Salvador Fernando Llort who moved there in the '70s. It is located on the through route from San Salvador to Honduras, the big trucks make the tight turns in the narrow roadway day and night.
We were to work in small towns around the city, but first we had to spend most of Saturday rolling meds. Medicines were brought in in the quantity containers that came directly from the suppliers. We had to break them down into dosage quantities, properly labeled with instructions. It took all of us most of the day, but we were mostly done by dinnertime. Sunday found us worshipping with the Church of Christ in La Palma that was a short walk from the hotel/ Monday morning we were to travel to the top of the mountain, a trip that would take us about 2 hours. Our transportation was to arrive at 7:00. It finally arrived about 9:30. Three pick-up trucks and a large city truck carried people and medicines up the mountain. The road started out as a paved highway, but shortly after a turn-off dwindled to a small sort of paved road. That dwindled to a dirt road that was actually better than the pavement. That dwindled to a track. Our concern was to not bounce out over the tailgate or to not lose any of the goods we carried. Tall folk had to think about missing overhanging branches.
It was nearly noon when we arrived at the combination school/church building in a town just off the border with Honduras. We set up and worked through the day, treating everyone who came. If was late afternoon when we finally loaded up for the return trip. We unloaded in the dark. Tuesday, we got an earlier start, but still arrived much later at our destination than planned. It was perhaps 10:00 when we arrived at a different town in a different direction only to find that the entire town had lined up about 7:00 that morning. We were determined to treat them all, but some folks did tire of the long wait. Families carried elderly members up the steps to us. Some came in wheel chairs that had to be lifted up. Our accommodations were spacious and conversations could be kept quite private. We worked until after dark and started our way down the mountain in a caravan. Suddenly, one of the pick-ups developed a problem. It was an automatic instead of a manual transmission and the brakes were overheating badly. We determined that we should go on and then one of the trucks would return for the stranded people. They finally arrived quite late that night, with tales of spending the entire time laughing. The passengers spoke no Spanish and their driver spoke no English, but they laughed, pointed, and motioned their way through conversations.
The following day we were to work in La Palma at the church building, so we walked while one of the trucks carried supplies. The church of Christ in La Palma started a school a few years ago, mostly for their own members' children. The students did so well on their exams, that the school has become the most sought-after school in the city with a waiting list for admissions. They run two sessions per day in order to accommodate as many students as possible. We had steady customers and worked well through the afternoon.
The following day we again left the city in the pick-up trucks for a short trip up the mountain to a small town. Again, we worked at the church building. For some reason the entrance was locked about noon, so our day was shortened. That left time in the afternoon to do some exploring. One of my roommates and I found our way down to the dry riverbed that was just behind our hotel. We were told that during the rainy season it was a mighty river, but during the dry season (which this was), it was down to a small trickle. We wandered around the town, poking our noses into small shops and parks, and getting wonderful pictures of the surrounding mountains. Friday was again to be a short day because a small group was going to climb the highest mountain. One of my roommates decided to go along, so I handed her my small camera. Unfortunately, she discovered early on that the hike was too much for her, so she handed my camera to someone else on the trips. So I was able to get pictures from the top of the mountain, even though I didn't attempt it myself.
One of the evenings we went to the house of one of the church members to eat pupusas. They are corn tortillas stuffed with beans and cheese and perhaps meat. They are quite delicious but do sit heavily on the stomach. The rest of our meals were prepared at the hotel. The food was very fresh, well prepared and filling. Breakfasts were a buffet with three different types of eggs, fruit, potatoes and meats.
One of the neat things about the work in El Salvador is that people are asked when they register if they would like to have a Bible study or talk with a minister. We did a lot of counseling with people who had lost family members in violence. We had nine ministers available, and they were kept busy all day every day. Part of the work included connecting people with resources at their disposal. Many knew for the first time that they could visit the community hospital for free. Part of the problem with medical services in El Salvador is the lack of available medicines. One of the local nurses that worked with us told me that some of the medicines we brought with us are non-existent there. Aspirin was not available for a period of almost 7 months last year. Many of the medicines we were giving for high blood pressure are not available there.
One man we discovered had an extremely high blood pressure. The doctor I was translating for stated that he shouldn't even be standing. We got him some medicine and made him sit and take it. He wanted to go home and go about his business per normal. Instead we drove him to the hospital. He was quite unconcerned, but grateful to us. Because we were there, we saved a life. Also because we were there a child with crossed eyes was identified and sent for surgery to correct it before it was too late. Because we were there many people talked about their emotional and spiritual troubles and received good counseling. Because we were there three people were baptized into Christ.
Because We Were There
Medical Mission to Ecuador, February 2019 – Kathy McClure
On February 22nd a group of about 40 people from North America traveled to Quito, Ecuador. We came from New York, California, Texas, and lots of states in-between. The following day they boarded a bus and drove for about 5 hours to the little town of Borbón, where the Cayapas River takes off for its course up into the mountains and jungles of the Esmeraldas province. At the dock we loaded all of the people and our goods onto motor-powered canoes that would take us 45 miles up the river to the lodge called Kumanii.
The lodge is a typical jungle lodge with amenities. Over the course of the last several years the thatch roofs have been replaced with tin, the bamboo floors and walls with solid plywood. There is usually electricity (except when there's not), and sufficient water for daily showers that are, on occasion, warm. There is purified water to drink, thanks to a water purification system that turns collected rain water - and even the river water - into 99% pure water.
The lodge sits high on the cliff above the river, and one must climb the steps (nearly 100 of them) from the dock to the lodge. When we arrive, it's late in the day and we have been traveling first by bus, then by canoe for about 9 hours with only about 5 hours of sleep. The steps look daunting, and we know that every day for the next several days we will be going up and down them a lot. For today, it's enough to find our assigned rooms, get the luggage into them and greet our friends who live and work along this river.
There are six evangelists who work at Kumanii. They have built their own quarters, do their own laundry in the river just like everyone else, and travel out daily to the many villages up and down the river making calls and conducting Bible studies. All travel is by canoe, so going even the very short distances to the villages on either side of the lodge requires the use of a canoe. That involves also a boatman and a spotter. The lodge has several canoes and drivers available each day to take the evangelists on their rounds. But transportation on the river doesn't come cheap, and trips must be well thought out and planned.
When we come, the population of the place swells to overfull, with some of the rooms being wall-to-wall bunk beds with no space for suitcases. So luggage gets put on the porches. Clothes lines stretch the length of the porches for hanging wet clothes in hopes they might dry in a few days. And many days we get wet. It usually rains. Sometimes one gets totally soaked from the rain while in the canoe. Sometimes it's just a splash from someone putting their hand in the water or the normal spray that comes off the bow. Sometimes people simply jump into the river on the way back "home" in order to swim (or float) the rest of the way downriver to the lodge.
Days are long and the work can get pretty intense. Normally everyone is up by 5:30 or 6:00 and the breakfast bell is rung at 7:00. If we're going out, we load boats about 8:00 with (hopefully) everything we'll need for that day. Our trip up or down the river might take 1/2 hour, and in some cases over an hour. Then everything has to be carried up to the top of the cliff into that town and on to wherever we have been assigned to work. Normally that is a school building and we might be given 2-4 rooms in which to work. One is designated for the pharmacy, one to the docs, one to the "charla," and perhaps another - if available - to dentist, eye-glasses, lab, etc. If there aren't that many rooms, we squeeze into however many we have. Sometimes the rooms get really crowded with only a few inches between work stations, shared tables, etc. If there are no chairs available, packing tubs and suitcases double as chairs or tables.
One of the things that we do pack with us every day is the generator and gasoline for it. We have found that these places get quite stuffy and hot as the day wears on, so we've started taking fans with us. It's interesting that many of the children have never seen fans, and they become quite a hit.
Once we've set up, registration starts and the people start pouring through the clinic. They are directed first to our triage area where they are weighed, blood pressure is checked, and basic information and complaints are taken. From there, they go to the medical providers. Translators are available at each station to do the actual talking to the patients. Those who have been doing this for awhile know the questions to be asked and simply start up the conversation. We hear a lot about injuries that happened decades ago and illness that have been going on for a long time. Since one day is just like another on the river, people tend to not count days. "Some time" can mean anywhere from a week to multiple years. Information is sketchy at best.
Usually teams can take short breaks for lunch, but then it must be "back to the grindstone" until all of the people have been treated. If they wish to see the dentist, then they are taken there, and if they wish to get reading glasses, they go there. Once finished with all of the medical treatment, people are escorted to the "charla." This is about 1/2 hour of discussion with a couple of the evangelists. They explain about purification of water and the need to do so. They explain how to brush teeth and give out toothbrushes and toothpaste. In the bag is also about 30 days of vitamins and albendazole - a de-worming medicine to control stomach worms that come from unpurified water. From they go to the pharmacy to pick up the medicines that have been prescribed to them.
By the time the pharmacy has handed out the last package of medicines, it's usually about 4:00. All of the goods have to be toted back down to the canoes and everyone loaded up for the trip back home. Supper is at about 7:00 each evening, and after the dish crew for that meal is finished, time is spent in a devotional that might last over an hour. We spend a lot of time singing, and since there are quite a number of Spanish-speaking people with us, songs may be done in both languages. There is no "lights out" time, but frequently the power goes off and that tends to curtail any late-night sessions.
When we're sleeping in the lodge, one of the strange things that people have to get accustomed to is that the walls do not go all the way to the ceiling. So if a light is turned on at the far end of the building, its reflection on the roof lights the entire building. So flashlights at night are the norm. Someone snoring six rooms away might affect one's ability to sleep, so if there's power, turning on a fan in each room muffles those noises. However, they also muffle the night jungle noises from the bullfrogs, birds, and an occasional monkey.
We serve two entirely different communities - one black and one indigenous. The blacks are there because centuries ago a slave ship going from Panama to Peru got caught in a storm and was wrecked. The slaves swam ashore and went inland to escape recapture. Their society has evolved without interference from outside sources, so they continue with much of their African root culture. They are industrious and hard-working people. For the most part, they are upbeat and intelligent, eager to learn and quick to remember. They are exuberant and full of joy, and they express it in many ways, including the creation of music and dance.
The Chachi people are a closed society that is quite ancient. Their history begins with them being in the Amazon jungle in the eastern portion of Ecuador. They moved to the highlands of the Andes for better land, but were forced further west into the coastal jungles to escape enslavement by the Incas. The remnant of their society has lived along the banks of the Cayapas river for centuries in small family communities. They farm the upper levels of the cliffs and mountains growing coffee, cacao and plantains, but live down along the river. They work as a community, and the percentage of distribution of goods in the village is made according to how much work each has done. They have maintained their language, which is called chapalachi, and are struggling to maintain their culture. Contact with the outside world has only been within the last 20 years when roads were built to the coast.
The Chachi are rather sluggish and non-ambitious. Their cultural tendency is to do enough to get by and no more. The women are quite subservient and will only speak if the husband/father is not present. Children learn by watching instead of by being actively taught. Their schools are taught in both Spanish and Chapalachi, so the younger generation speaks both languages. The older people generally speak little or no Spanish. They are slow to change their ways, and things we might suggest - like purifying their water - meet with great resistance. They are quite poor and frequently we find people who live with daily hunger.
Housing for both groups is wooden structures on stilts. The ground under the house is used for storage and for animal keeping, or perhaps for a store. Homes are one room and only recently were exterior walls common. The only weather they experience is rain, and although it can be torrential, it is always straight down. So walls are not needed for protection. Sometimes the wood gets painted, but it soon wears off in the constant rain, so for the most part buildings are simply weathered. Community buildings may be built the same way, or may be of concrete, if they are newer.
One of the problems in working with these people is getting the two groups to worship together. Although they live side by side, they do not mingle except for business purposes. As the congregation grew at Kumanii and was a mixture of the two cultures, the centuries-old system had to be overcome. There is no animosity between the groups, just a tacit agreement to not socialize. There are few towns that have mixed elements. And the differences in the two cultures reach far beyond the difference in language.
Since we have been working in this area and coming with regularity, people along the river know who we are when we come in. They seem to know when we will be in what towns. We spend two days working "at home," utilizing the facility at Kumanii. This serves two purposes: It gives us a chance to work in a cleaner, easier environment, and it brings people to the location. Many of these people would never come to Kumanii if it were not for out clinics. Once they come and get acquainted with us and with the evangelists, it is much easier to get them to return for study or for worship.
Because we come with regularity, people along the river have come to depend on our visits for more than simple medical treatment. They are learning why we are there and many have started to build relationships with us. Because we are there, women are now coming to Kumanii on a weekly basis for Bible study. Because we are there, recent converts are learning to sing praises to God. Many of them had never sung before! Because we were there this particular time, 1400 people received medical treatment and saw the love of God - some for the first time. Because we were there, people prayed and learned the reason for and power of prayer. For the first time we had Chachi families asking for prayer. Some let us pray with them for the very first time. Because we come with our clinic, closed Chachi villages welcome us.
Normally we experience conversions during our visit. This year we did not. But because we were there, a young man from San Miguel, the neighboring community, came for the very first time. He listened to the evangelists and realized that what they taught was a bit different from what he heard from his own minister. A few days after we left, he asked Gabriel (our very first convert on the river) to baptize him. And so Pedro was added to the Kingdom. The following day, one of the evangelists visited Pedro's home and met his mother. They have been worshipping with an evangelical group, and the discussion led to her story of conversion. It turned out that she was baptized years ago by the two evangelists who originally went up the Cayapas, teaching, preaching and baptizing. Unfortunately they were not able to stay, and their original teaching became adulterated by subsequent teachers who did not teach the entire truth. So a daughter of God was discovered and brought back into the fold. We never know exactly what will be the result of our being there.
Ecuador Medical Mission Trip – February 2017
Measuring Growth - A New Look at Christianity Along the Cayapas River - Kathy McClure
Every year and sometimes twice a year for the last several years, I have made a mission trip to Kumanii, a Christian center along the Cayapas River in Northwestern Ecuador. The Cayapas is a major tributary coming down out of the mountains and flowing into the Pacific Ocean along the northern shore of Ecuador near the Columbian border. It is lined with coastal jungle - a dense combination of plants and trees - where there are no roads, not even paths. The river and its feeders are the only breaks in the jungle, and canoes are the only vehicles to be found here. It is home to an aboriginal group of people known as the chachi who live in small family villages along the banks of the river and up the rivulets. They live simple lives of total dependence on agricultural projects
The chachi people are a very closed society who have chosen to not mix with outsiders in an effort to protect their culture. Although they share the river and their surroundings with blacks (descendants of escapees from a slave ship), they avoid contact with them as much as possible. One must have prior permission to enter a chachi village, and should someone enter without permission, everyone sort of hides. Marriage outside the group is strictly forbidden
It is to these people that the ministry at Kumanii has been directed for the last six years. Obviously, the black population has not been ignored, and many converts have been made of them. But the original purpose was to reach the chachi people. Slowly, it is happening. But very slowly. One of the reasons medical missions are so valuable in this ministry, is that they are welcome in the villages. Village leaders will approve a group of medical people coming to serve their families where evangelists coming alone are turned away. Once the medical people have come and made contacts and set up Bible studies, then the evangelists may enter the village to conduct those studies. And, in most cases, if one person wants the study, nearly everyone in the village will attend.
Conversions among the chachi have been slow to come. But our persistence and constant presence are beginning to break down the distrust. And they will come to Kumanii, even if they will not allow the "outsiders" to come to their village. So the word is getting out and they are starting to attend worship at Kumanii. One of the joys of being there is seeing the two groups of people joining together in worship. Four years ago we baptized an elderly woman in one of the chachi villages. During the following year, she converted her son and grandson, and now their families are also Christians. A year ago they proudly informed us that they were going to put up a building so that they could have their own worship service. In February, we worked our clinic one day in their new building. It's a simple pole building, but quite large and housed a portion of our clinic quite nicely in their village.
Normally we enter a village, carry up all of our goods and set up a clinic while the villagers stand and watch. This last February we noted that there was a lot more cooperation among the villagers during this process. And we were greeted in three of the villages by a group who sang to us in both Spanish and their native language, chapalachi. The individual Christians in these villages were making themselves known to us and to their village. That was something quite new and quite lovely.
One of the biggest joys of the February visit was the worship service at Kumanii. This service is normally conducted by the evangelists and the attendees come from the two villages on either side of the camp - one black and one chachi. We have always commented that each time we go, the numbers have swelled, and particularly the numbers of young children in attendance. This year was quite different. It happened that our Sunday there was the national election day and all Ecuadorians were required to report to the voting centers. So none of the evangelists were present. Indeed, the Ecuadorians who normally accompany us on these mission trips were not present. So we were a bunch of North Americans and the locals. The locals conducted the service. They admitted later that they had never done that, and to do so with us in attendance was quite nerve-wracking. But their temerity was not apparent, and they did a magnificent job.
On Tuesday night, the cooks made a special meal and baked a beautiful cake because a couple from the neighboring town was getting married. This area is very remote and very removed from anywhere that has legal services. Proper marriages in Ecuador require a visit to either Quito or Guayaquil to obtain permits. And to even get to one of those cities costs quite a bit, and the legalities cost even more. People of this area simply cannot afford to all of this. So the normal practice is simply to move in together. There are couples who have lived together for decades, raised their children and now have grandchildren. Their relationship has been a committed one, just not a legal one.
As these people get more and more familiar with God's plan for their lives, they are deciding that having a formal marriage ceremony is something they should do. To date we have conducted three weddings at Kumanii, the last one being for a couple who have been together for 40 years.
And yes, we did have a baptism one evening. It was the brother-in-law of one of the ladies who works in the kitchen at Kumanii and who has been a Christian for a couple of years. She has been studying with her sister and brother-in-law, and that study came to fruition while we were there. This same lady has started a women's group that meets at Kumanii each Thursday afternoon for Bible study and family discussions. The week we were there, probably 40 women were in attendance. And attending is no small feat. They must somehow get rides in canoes from their own villages to come. It's not just walking down the street!
Part of our teaching work on these missions is about using purified water. This is a concept that is slow to be accepted. For centuries, these people have used the river water for laundry, for bathing, for drinking water and for anything else for which water is needed. It's always there, and it's free. While they do understand that their children get stomach worms from the water, they also know that taking a pill will kill those worms. It is discouraging to continually tell them, ask them, beg them to use purified water and to see them continue to use the river water. But we are seeing a trend among the younger people that have accepted Christ that they also accept some of the dietary and sanitary habits we have been trying to teach. I was reminded one evening by a dear friend who has watched the progression of the work along the river that change comes slowly to these remote cultures. That they have lived their way for centuries and our primary purpose is to introduce them to God and Jesus, not clean their water.
I was also reminded that we started with only six evangelists and occasional visits from medical teams. There are now four congregations of believers on the river. Where the evangelists were conducting the worship services, now local converts are taking responsibility for that. Local converts are finding their own methods of teaching Christ to their communities. Sometimes growth isn't measured by numbers but by witnessing deeper commitment of the converted and seeing lives being changed by the Holy Spirit
Ecuador Medical Mission Trip – May/June 2016
You Never Know, Chapter 3 - Kathy McClure
On May 27th I traveled again to Ecuador for yet another medical mission. The group was to be huge, as there were several facets of the work converging on this particular week. Construction projects always abound and the medical mission itself contained a higher-the-usual attendance.
The Kumanii camp is limited in size. Normally they say that its maximum capacity is 40 – sometimes up to 50. We were to have 80 for most of the week we would be there. That meant even more cramped quarters, heavier demands on water, power, and all other resources. We were warned to “be conservative” with everything.
We have some new canoes that are lighter, bigger, and faster than the old ones. Wooden canoes deteriorate rapidly in the wet, humid climate, and our old canoes were rapidly disentegrating. So shortly before our visit, a plea went out to raise some funds to get fiberglass canoes made up for us. The money was quickly raised and our head boatman Gabriel quickly went about getting the canoes made in time for our arrival. Three were finished in time. Two more were rented for the event. They were wider, so the seats were a bit more comfortable for North American bottoms. And they held more cargo while sitting higher in the water. That was a good thing because the river was down.
June is not one of the wettest months in the Ecuadorian jungle, and there hadn’t been rain for several days. When I had last been there the river was suffering from flood stage. This time there were sandbars visible nearly everywhere and docks, normally out into the water, were several yards from the edge of the river. If it weren’t for the new boats, we might have been walking part of the way! As it was, with the faster boats we arrived in about normal time, taking about four hours to travel the 40 or 50 miles of river in to the lodge.
Unloading enough luggage for 80 people took awhile. Finding one’s assigned bunk took awhile. Getting time at the showers took even longer. The affect of having double the normal number of people was quickly evident. The new building, which had only been roughed in in February, was nearly finished with just minimal work required to make it totally workable. It is intended to be a clinic when needed, extra meeting space when needed, and extra dining facility when needed; plus storage and covered area for storing the canoes that’s higher off the river than before so that hopefully they won’t be lost or damaged in the next flood. New tables had been brought in to provide sufficient sitting space for everyone to eat at the same time. It was crowded, noisy, and busy but uplifting to see so many people there.
After Saturday night’s supper we got acquainted. There was a work crew there that had been there for several days before our arrival. Then there was a large group of young people from York, Nebraska, who had come down to do minor construction work in various villages and to “just visit.” Then there was our group that also had several teenagers along. There were lots of new faces and new names to learn along with familiar faces that I hadn’t seen for several years.
The group that populates the June trip is mainly from the Western Heights church in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Naturally, there are others along – like me – from other places. The teenagers with them were from their youth group. They would serve as “runners” and traffic control during the upcoming days. We also had several translators, among them some AIMS students from Bolivia.
Sunday started with breakfast at 7:00, followed by a quick clean up and set-up for worship. Worship at Kumanii is led mostly by the evangelists working there and boats are made available to the neighboring towns of San Miguel and Loma Linda to bring in anyone who wants to attend. The crowd was lighter than usual on this Sunday. Still when our attendance was added in, communion had to be served in shifts as there simply weren’t enough cups to go around. Most congregations use and reuse their communion cups until they simply fall apart. These had to be washed, dried and refilled to complete the service. It is customary in most Ecuadorian congregations when taking communion everyone takes and holds the bread, and then eats it at the same time. They do likewise with the cups, passing the trays a second time to collect all the empty cups. So it took quite some time for all the shifts to be completed. But everyone was quite patient – even the children.
At the end of the worship service, several people came forward expressing their desire to be baptized. So they were taken down to the river and were baptized. The stairway leading down to the river was quite full, as was the balcony overhead to witness the event. While this was being done, yet another came forward to be baptized, so he was accommodated as well. It was a joyful Sunday indeed!
But there was little time to enjoy the moment. The chairs had to be rearranged, tables replaced, and everything set up for the clinic. Most of the people who had come for worship simply waited patiently on the stairwell while we got everything ready. By now the sun was getting high in the sky, and without rain, the heat was becoming very noticeable. There are no walls on the buildings, so the air can flow through uninhibited, when there is air. There was no breeze. It got hot. The more people came, the hotter it got. We treated about 190 people, seeing everyone who came. The boats made trip after trip bringing folks from San Miguel and Loma Linda, and continued their trips until there were no more people waiting to be brought. We finally said goodbye to our last patient around 5:30.
We were tired, hot, and sweaty, and everyone was hitting the showers at the same time. Except there wasn’t any water. The tanks are filled with rainwater runoff from the roofs of the buildings. It hadn’t rained. There was no runoff. So the generator was started that runs the pump to bring river water up the mountainside and into the tanks. That takes awhile. Then, if one actually wants a warm shower, one must wait for the water heaters to treat the icy cold river water. Some elected to simply bathe in the river. Some waited. Some took cold showers the minute water was available. And we still had to arrange tables and chairs for supper, and eat, and get dishes done. Thankfully, some of the youngsters were assigned kitchen duty so those of us who had older bones could sit and relax for the first time since about 6:00 AM.
Then the fun began. One of my favorite things at Kumanii is the “after-dinner sing.” We will sing for hours. The air is still. The lights are off. The generators are off (hopefully). The sweet sound of our singing wafts along the river, entertaining the surrounding villages and drawing their attention to our time spent praising God. We sing in English and in Spanish. I’m sure that from a distance they can’t understand the words we sing. But they can understand the sweet melodies and harmonies and the heart that is put into those beautiful musical prayers. It has been said that religious music is one of the most powerful evangelistic tools there is. I’m certain of that. I frequently hear people from the villages comment on hearing us sing and how inviting is that sound.
Monday through Thursday were absolute workdays. The medical team and its entourage would load their boats and set out about 8:00 or 8:30. The construction team would be hard at work before that. And the York team would be heading out about the same time to do their work. Their intended task was to set up swing sets in several villages. That means digging the holes for the lift poles, setting those poles, hanging the supporting structure, then hanging the swings. They thought they could do about 2 a day. It turned out that it took about two days to do one. The ground was so hard that digging the holes turned into a major task. And the poles aren’t light; so setting them is hard work.
Their efforts made our medical team’s work look easy. All we had to do was lug all our stuff down into the boats, lug it up the side of the cliff when we arrived, set up any chairs and tables we could find, treat hundreds of people, then do all the lugging in reverse. The only hope is that the drug boxes are more empty when we leave than when we come, therefore lighter. We visited the towns of El Progreso, El Tigre Bajo, Santa Maria, and Corrientes Grandes. The first two villages are quite small, but they had invited surrounding villages and people who lived up the tributaries. In El Progreso we treated about 150 people. El Tigre Bajo is a village of 20 people. Across the river is El Tigre Alto, which has also about 20 people. They are extremely poor villages that are very isolated. Still, we saw about 170 people there. Santa Maria is a large town downriver. The school which they give us to use is at the very top of the cliff, so there are many steps up to the buildings with all our gear. We treated about 200 there.
On Thursday we were to go to Corrientes Grande, which is a village close to the “end” of the river. The river doesn’t really end. But there are huge boulders blocking any further travel up beyond there. Actually Corrientes Grandes (which means big rapids) sits off on a large tributary from the main channel of the river. Between us and that village there are several sets of rapids. Now these aren’t whitewater rapids. But they are rapids with huge boulders hidden below the water and a very narrow and shallow channel. When the river is up, these are no problem. When the river is down, they are a problem. We were warned that we might have to walk.
We passed the first sets of rapids slowly but with no problems. We could hear and feel the canoe bottom rubbing the boulders, and the motors had to be lifted out of the water in places so as to not damage the propellers. Then we arrived at the final set of rapids. It is the full width of the river and even the deepest part of the channel is full of boulders. The boatman surveyed the scene, ducked to the right, slowed the motor to a crawl and we bumped our way into the rapids. Then the motor had to be totally pulled out of the water. There is always a man in the front of the canoe with a pole who will pole us through shallow spots. He couldn’t pole through the boulders. The current was quite swift and we found ourselves going backwards. There were great swirls of water, deep holes and huge waves that hit the side of the canoe (and us). Finally, the boatman found a hole deep enough to drop the motor in. With one lightning-fast motion, he dropped the motor and revved it, shoving us forward. We had enough impetus to push the canoe through the rest of the rapids, and we were back into stiller waters. Of course we had to do the entire thing in reverse to return home. But we treated 165 people that day.
Just a short time before this mission trip there was a violent earthquake in Ecuador. Its epicenter was along the coast, but its effect was felt far and wide. There was a valiant effort made by the Quito Norte church and the Quito School of Biblical Studies to take in contributions of clothing, water, and other supplies as well as money to purchase needed supplies. With the funds raised they were able to take to Manta, the town most destroyed by the quake, truck after truck of clothing, water, purchase water filters and other supplies.
There was a planned church plant to start up in Manta under the oversight of a congregation in Missouri. They went ahead with their plans and the US elders and the evangelists who would work there made their way through the broken highways to the town. They found the local Christians living in the park and joined them. A few weeks later they purchased a large tent which they set up in the park. It is being used a living quarters for the moment, and will become their place of worship then housing has been restored. A lot of government effort is going into the work of rebuilding Manta. Aid and work in that town has been limited to “approved” groups with large numbers of both people and dollars to do the needed work.
Although our location on the Cayapas River was across a mountain range from the coast, there was some damage, and we did treat injuries sustained during the quake. Most of the buildings on the river are wooden, not concrete, so they suffered less damage. They simply swayed a bit. Footings for the buildings at Kumanii are quite deep, so there was no damage there. Our visit, however, was timely, as this remote region gets little attention from the outside world and the injuries we saw would have gone untreated if we had not gone.
One of the “stations” in our clinic set-up is what we call the charla (talk). It’s about ½ hour to 45 minutes long. The local evangelists do it so that people can get acquainted with them and know who they are. They stress the importance of purifying water and eating a better diet, and hand out medicine for stomach worms and vitamins. They also do a short presentation of God’s plan of salvation and invite people to study the Bible. Since most of the people we treat speak chapalachi, the chachi language, they use a chachi translator to make sure everyone understands what is being said. Usually we simply choose someone from the town who is willing to help. Sometimes we know that person. Sometimes we don’t. A person was asked to help translate in the charla. All day he translated the evangelist’s words to the groups. Late in the afternoon as he was explaining the concept and significance of repentance and baptism, he suddenly turned to the evangelists and said, “That means me, doesn’t it?” We took him with us back to Kumanii. He studied with the evangelist during the boat ride back, and we baptized him a short time later.
Lesson learned: When one repeats something over and over, it may eventually soak in. Never underestimate the power of repetition.
The week was spent. We treated 870 people. We baptized six. Not a bad week.
On this trip we met one of the new evangelists at Kumanii. His name is Carlos. He’s young, but well trained, thoughtful, and easy to talk to. During the week I had opportunities to talk with him about his impressions of the Cayapas region, its people and the work he has undertaken. Although his time there has been short, he has formed some insightful impressions. One of the impressions he has gained directly influences the work there. He said that the chachi people have a very low opinion of themselves and their importance. Individuals have little value and women in particular. Although they hear that “God loves them” from the evangelists, it means little to them. They are not worthy of love. That’s for other people who have a higher standard of living, know more, etc. So for the entire week, as each person presented himself to our clinic one of our major thrusts was to convince them that they matter – to us and to God. It will take lots of effort to undo generations of attitude, but our continued efforts will eventually lead to results, with God’s help.
Belize Mission Trip – March 2016
You Never Know, Chapter 2 - Kathy McClure
See photos at
Three days after arriving home from Ecuador I took off for Belize. I hadn’t worked with the Belize team for several years and I was anxious to get back into that work. The team is put together by the Faith Village Church of Christ and works under the oversight and planning of one of their elders, Larry Smith. Team members are from there plus others who have been invited in over the years like me. It’s a relatively small team that can fit in two vans for traveling.
The work in Belize is purely evangelistic. We have a series of three lessons that we go through with scripture verses, then questions that are to be answered. One of the lessons is on the authority of the Bible, another is on the plan of salvation, and the third is on the church as presented in the Bible. The team carries in printed lesson sheets in English and Spanish, New Testaments in both languages plus some tracts and further study lessons. We also provide reading glasses and sunglasses to those that want them.
Each day we travel to a particular congregation’s meeting place or a community center, set up shop and start doing Bible studies. We hope that the evangelist in that particular town has done some advertising work. But we also stand on street corners or walk the streets passing out invitations. The invitation is to come get reading/sunglasses and have a free Bible study. So part of the beginning of each day is sending people out into the village to invite people. Somehow that task seems to fall to Larry Smith, Albert, one of the local evangelists and me. I guess we look more “outdoorsy” than the rest of the people. It’s physical work in the hot sun and leads to sunburn and heat exhaustion. But the people gladly accept the invitations and they come.
On the first day we worked in Burrell Boom. This is a relatively small town with a very active church. The evangelist working there died quite suddenly a few years ago and his sons have taken up his work. He was without doubt one of the most energetic people I had ever met and his love for God and for people was infectious. He is missed.
I was assigned to stand at one of the speed bumps near the church building while Larry went “downtown.” The speed bumps are called “sleeping policemen” and are high enough that everyone slows down for them. They can be jarring if hit faster than about 10. I decided the best thing to do was to actually stand in the middle of the speed bump. So here I was in the middle of the highway handing out papers to everyone. In Ecuador I would have been dead in probably 10 minutes. In the US no one would have stopped. But in Belize, people slowed, rolled down their windows and took the paper, thanking me for it. Some stopped to ask questions, and I could easily point out where the church building was. Some wanted to know where we would be the following day. They were all attentive.
And they came. Larry told a story when he came back to cool off and pick up more flyers. There was a VERY nice car coming down the road – a jaguar, I think – with two fellows in it. He was in the midst of traffic, and his thought was to skip them. “They won’t be interested in a 50-cent pair of sunglasses,” he thought. But they slowed, and he handed them an invite. Some time later they came back by, slowed, and asked where the church building was. Larry, surprised, gave them directions.
It turned out the one fellow was one of the leading lawyers in Belize and the other fellow was his driver. The lawyer had known Lincoln, the evangelist who had died, in the military and had talked with him on occasion. They came in and did a Bible study and at the end of the study both decided to be baptized. “Of all the people we handed invitations to, that one was the least likely candidate – at least in my mind, laughed Larry. “And to think I almost didn’t invite him!” But God had other plans. We took him back to our hotel to baptize him in the pool, since the pond we had used in prior years was now part of a park and was closed.
On succeeding days we worked in some town or village where a church was being established. We visited one very new work in a town called Hattieville. The village was formed by those who were evacuated when Hurricane Hattie bore down on Belize. Some of the people simply decided to stay put instead of going back to the coast. And so a village grew. The church there is extremely small and currently meets under a tree in a members’ yard. They do own property and they proudly showed us their building being erected. They promised that when we return in 2017 we would be working in their new building. I don’t know. We saw lots of people even though it rained cats and dogs all day. I’m not sure how we would get that many people in their new, but small, building! The current “church building” is an 8x10 shed that’s mostly used for storage of construction tools – but it does house their meetings in inclement weather.
On Sunday afternoon we packed all our bags and loaded everything into two vans for the long drive to Punta Gorda. We left our beautiful, small resort hotel on the Belize River called the Black Orchid that really does have the tiny black orchids growing in various spots. But we were promised resort hotels on the coast in Punta Gorda, so we were not so sorry to go. The drive took us into the middle of the country, then south on the only highway that goes that direction. We drove through plains, then foothills, then up and through some mountains on our way to the coast. The going was slow because one of the drivers is one of those people who just never get in a hurry about anything. Then, a missed turn added more minutes to the trip and by that time it was getting dark. The discussion then turned to “does anyone know where we’re going when we get there?” Albert, the local evangelist with us, had been there only once before and Larry, driving the other van, had never been there.
Punta Gorda is at the tip of Belize right on the ocean. Front Streets follows the coast and supposedly our hotels were on that street. But we came to what was obviously the end of the road without finding them. Finally we asked. The road turned into a lane and then a trail, so in name it continued as Front Street. But to actually get to the hotel, we had to jog over a block. So finally we arrived. It was quite late and we hadn’t had dinner. By this time everyone was a bit punchy and we had to work at being nice. On top of that, the hotel didn’t have enough rooms for us so some had to go over to another nearby hotel while those that stayed at the Coral House had to double up – putting a single person on the fold-out couch in the living room of a suite while a couple took the bedroom. It wasn’t ideal but it did sleep everyone. And we all got to know each other a LOT better!
Then we were off at night in a small town to find food. There was supposed to be a really good restaurant a few blocks up High Street, but we never saw it. So we imposed on a place that was closing, begging them to feed us and we ordered the fastest items on the menu. Except Albert, of course.
We worked there only two days, but we saw more people there in one day than we had in all of the other days combined. They came in droves. Again, I was sent out to walk the streets and hand out flyers. The first day we were there was a holiday, so people weren’t up and out early, but they did have time to come for studies. The little church building was packed. After nearly exhausting myself in the warm, humid, tropical, sunny town, I spent the balance of the day teaching one Spanish study after another.
The second day was similar, but since we didn’t have very many invitations left, our time walking the streets was a little abbreviated. But it was time for another “you never know” moment. High Street is lined with businesses and they were bustling. I had three flyers left and was in front of a bar with three obviously North Americans sitting on its porch, beers in hand, in the early morning hours of the day. “Whatcha handing out there, lady?” they asked. So I told them, handing them the only English copy I had left to share. Although they thanked me, they also laughed. I walked away knowing that the invitation was soon going to become a bar napkin. And then I returned to the building to rest a bit before starting in on a slew of studies.
I was doing 3 and 4 people at a time in Spanish studies with my head totally buried in what I was doing when someone grabbed my arm. I looked up, and it was one of the bar flies! He came! He actually came! And he studied. Not with me but with someone else, as I was dedicated to handling the Spanish-speaking students. We did baptize one that day, but no it wasn’t the bar fly. It was a Harley rider who had roared up wanting to know what all the activity was about.
I was again reminded that you just never know what action may prompt someone to learn about God and Christ. Sometimes the least likely candidate turns out to be a good student. If we have planted a seed, we have accomplished our purpose.
We didn’t have nearly as many baptisms during the week as I had grown to expect in Belize. But we did hundreds of Bible studies, gave away hundreds of New Testaments, and provided the local evangelists with contacts and requests for on-going studies.
What did I learn from this trip? I learned that standing in the middle of the street is sometimes the most economical way of getting the word out. I learned that walking up to unlikely people can sometimes result in someone getting to know God. I learned that one need have no fear while approaching a group of young men just hanging out if one keeps their wits about them and makes it clear that God is directing the traffic. I learned that there is perhaps no softer air in the world than that of the southern Belizean coast. I learned that black orchids are extremely tiny and extremely beautiful – as is all of God’s marvelous flora.
Ecuador Medical Mission Trip – February 2016
You Never Know, Chapter 1 - Kathy McClure
See photos at
When someone starts out on a mission trip, particularly one with same or similar plans as prior trips, one sort of expects to know what is going to happen. I’ve been going to Ecuador on medical mission trips for many years. For the last several years we’ve gone to the same place and visited the same villages. The place is a lodge known as Kumanii Christian Center and it’s located about 35 miles up the Cayapas River from Borbón, Ecuador in the Esmeraldas province. Once there, we travel out each day up and down the river. We’ll arrive at a destination village, set up a clinic and see everyone who comes. Our clinics are a way of opening the doors for the evangelists who live and work at Kumanii.
The villages we visit are chachi or black. The chachi people are an aboriginal group who live in small clan or family villages along the river and its tributaries. Their history is very ancient and for centuries they lived without any interference from the outside world. Their only way out is via canoe, and then the destination is Borbón, which isn’t the world’s finest example of humankind or civilization. Their lives are very simple. They live in wooden houses built on stilts. The houses are now walled in, but when we first started visiting, most had no walls – just a floor and a roof and maybe a half-wall somewhere. In each village the houses are built around a central green. There may be a school (and maybe not) and perhaps, depending on the size of the village, other village buildings such as meeting places or storage buildings.
The family or clan living in each village shares in the agricultural activities such as growing and harvesting plantains or cacao. Individuals may have cattle or horses or pigs. Everyone has chickens. Some have businesses like carving canoes or fixing sewing machines or selling gasoline or even perhaps running a small store. Their goal is not to accumulate wealth, live in a better house or have better things. Their goal is to survive until tomorrow, and then on the morrow until the next day. They are stoic and unemotional. Even the children, although they will cry and scream when taken from their moms, do not react to pain or even hunger as one would expect.
The black villages are generally larger, multi-family communities that bustle. Businesses are common and activity is everywhere. There are sidewalks, flowers, and evidence of betterment. The people have higher blood pressures than the chachi and are vocal, joyous and energetic.
And so it was that we entered this community and on the first day set up clinic at our own lodge after worship service. The boatmen were busy shuttling people from surrounding towns to the clinic and back. The line formed at the top of the stairs and went all the way to the boat dock, fanning out at the wider places of the path and stairwell. I was translating for Dr. Michael, a doctor from New Mexico. Our first patient was an elderly woman named Maria who was accompanied by her daughter and granddaughter. I recognized her from worship, so I told her so and asked her if she was a Christian. “No,” she answered, “Why not,” I quipped, then immediately felt remorse at my teasing this very solemn woman. She was not amused. “Her life is quite hard,” explained her daughter. One of the evangelists told me that the chachi elderly are sort of left to their own devices, unfortunately. When resources are so limited, they go to those who contribute to the community, and the elderly are not seen as contributing as they cannot go up into the mountain to work. Although this sounds quite harsh to our North American ears, this is just sort of how it is in their world.
We finished with Maria and went on to see other patients, trying to keep up with the influx. Suddenly someone said, “There’s going to be a baptism!” I ran to see who was making the trek down the 60 or so steps to the river. It was Maria! I begged to go down with her, so leaving our current patient to Michael’s broken Spanish I grabbed my camera and made my way down the slippery steps. Maria was baptized in the river, and as she was being greeted and brought back up onto the steps, her daughter said, “Now it’s my turn!” So we baptized her also.
Later I asked Kleber, the evangelist who works in her village what prompted Maria on this day. “I don’t know,” he said in Spanish. “We were just finishing up with the charla, when she came to me with the request.” Perhaps my quip wasn’t quite as facetious as I thought. Perhaps the words to that old hymn really did touch her heart. One never knows. I have to admit they echoed in my mind for the remainder of the week.
That was the beginning of our week, and we still had four days of hard work to go. They flew by. The final workday was in a new village, and we always celebrate being invited into a new village. That means that our evangelists can then go into the village to teach and conduct Bible studies and minister to the people. This was a very different village in that it was a mix of chachi and black. While normally the two cultures do not mix – even having villages on opposing sides of the river – this village was a mix. Actually, when we arrived we found that it was sort of more like side-by-side villages, but they shared common areas. The only other place on the river where the two cultures intermix is at our lodge Kumanii and in the large town of Zapallo Grande. It was heartwarming to see the cultures working together in this village. And we found people interested in knowing more about God, and that is the really good news.
It isn’t that there isn’t religion in this particular area of the jungle. Among the black villages there is a smattering of Catholic and various Evangelical Protestant groups. When one opens a conversation with them regarding their beliefs, it normally runs pretty much like a conversation here in the US. They have belief systems that have been taught to them over the years and one must work through them to bring them to the truth in the Bible. The good thing is that for the most part they are very willing to have religious discussions and many of them are well versed in the Bible.
The chachi, however, are a totally different story. First it is very difficult to get them to even discuss anything religious. I have tried for years to get a sense of what their cultural religion is and haven’t gotten much. Some are sort of naturalists. Some know a smattering of Bible stories. One fellow, with whom I had a discussion about King David, admitted that he had been taught the stories of the Old Testament. “But what does that have to do with me?” he asked. And that sort of seems to be the general attitude. They live in a world in which there is no hope, so it’s a concept they do not understand very well. It does nothing to change their day-to-day existence, and they cannot see beyond that. With some of them one literally starts by explaining who God is. From there, one can go on to an introduction to Jesus. But it takes a long time to get to where it is meaningful to them personally. The evangelists who work there find that the elderly are more accepting of the Gospel than the younger people. Another problem is the amount of illiteracy among the chachi, and even among those who can read, the number who can read Spanish is quite low. That is slowly changing with bi-lingual schools being more readily available, but not everyone goes to school even now. So one cannot simply hand out Bibles and expect them to be read. So the gifting of Bibles is reserved for those who 1) can read Spanish, and 2) have been baptized already. It’s sort of the gift the evangelists can give – if there are enough Bibles available to do so.
The work in this region is slow; it is hard; and it is discouraging to the evangelists. Given that they live in difficult circumstances (difficult travel, frequently no power, little communication with home and the outside world, doing laundry and bathing in the river, etc.) it is hard to find men with enough commitment to stay. They cannot bring their families, so they are separated from their families while living without most of the “normal” perks of living in the 21st century. The turnover is a problem in trying to give continuity to the work. And given that just getting entrance into a village takes a lot of work and a long time to gain trust, continuity becomes very important.
All in all we treated about 1200 people and touched their lives at least in some way. Our purpose is to make their physical lives just a bit easier while introducing them to God and Christ. And we accomplished that.
People ask me frequently what it’s like to be on one of these mission trips. When we go into the jungle, the work becomes physically challenging. First of all, we are 35 miles (and about 4 hours) away from what we would call “civilization” even in its crudest form. No phones, no internet, no TV, sometimes not even any power. There is always water since we’re on the river, but it’s icy cold and not very clean. It rains. It may rain all day. In may rain all night. It may rain all day AND all night. One lives wet. Clothes just don’t dry; they get what we laughingly call “jungle dry.” That means they’re no longer dripping. The day starts about 5:00 or 5:30 AM, waking up in a dormitory with 10 other people crowded into a room about the size of a normal bedroom, crawling out of bed after checking the floor and fighting for the bathroom. There’s not much space for suitcases anywhere, and it’s quite dark in the rooms. The 40-watt light bulbs don’t give much light, and the huge roof that covers the entire building overhangs the porch, leaving little opportunity for even daylight to enter. Devo and coffee is at 6:30 followed by breakfast, clean up and dishes at 7:00. Everything needs to be down the 100 steps to the river’s edge to load onto the boats by a little after 8:00. Loading takes awhile. Then it’s up or down the river, maybe ½ hour, maybe 1½ hours, to wherever we’ll be working that day.
Once we arrive, we must unload the boats, carrying everything up their set of steps (again, maybe about 100 or more) and set up in whatever building(s) we’ve been allocated. Usually it’s a school, one room with a few chairs and maybe one table. One medical set-up usually consists of a couple of chairs and maybe a small table. Maybe we have just a student desk that’s pretty wobbly and quite small. Then we try to get either some small chairs or benches for the patients to sit on. We may see as many as 10-12 in a group (large families), but they have to fit into 2-3 chairs. Frankly, I end up either sitting on my haunches or a box or simply squatting most of the day, which is pretty tiring. We try to start seeing patients about 9:30, but that frequently ends up being 10:00, and we work until there are no more people. Then it’s tear everything down, tote it back down the steps and load into the boats, back to our lodge, unload the boats, tote everything back up the steps and into the storage room.
By that time it’s nearly time for dinner, so with perhaps a quick, cold shower and a short bit of conversation on the porch, it’s down to the dining room for dinner and dishes. By that time it’s dark. There’s always work to be done preparing meds for the next day, so that gets done – sometimes by flashlight. Usually we sit around and sing in the dark. Frankly, that’s my favorite time. When you get 40-50 people singing on an open porch in the dark, it is quite beautiful. The only noise in the night air is the rush of the river and sound travels. I’m told they can hear us all the way up to San Miguel (the next village upstream) and down to Loma Linda (the next village downstream). We sing in English and Spanish and sometimes both at the same time. If the meds are done, we can fall into bed about 9:00 to get rested for tomorrow, which will be just like today.
One of the things one must become accustomed to is the wet. It is, after all, the rainforest. The steps are wet. If they’re concrete, they’re slanted to allow water to run off of them and they get slick. If they’re wooden, they get water soaked and they’re slick. Our lodge has handrails, of sorts. Other places do not. We have wooden walkways which keep us out of the wet grass at our lodge. But in the chachi villages there are no such amenities. Clothes in the suitcases get damp. Passports grow green stuff. Anything that gets put into the boats will likely be sitting in water by the time we arrive and will be soaked by rain on the way. Ponchos are always on the person, never left in the room, as it can start to pour at any moment. And ponchos don’t do much when the rain is running down your neck and you find yourself sitting in water on the boat seat. But occasionally it stops and the sun comes out the sky turns blue and it’s breathtakingly beautiful.
What does one do? Well, if you’re a medical person you either see patients or work triage. If you speak Spanish, you’re a translator for someone or you’re passing out meds from the pharmacy and explaining each medicine to the patient. If you’re a pharmacist you gather and prepare individual medicines. If you don’t do either of the above, you herd traffic, hold babies, carry stuff, take people over to the charla (the “talk” in which they learn who we are and why we’re there), or over to the pharmacy for their meds. You play with children while the parents are being treated. You find stuff. You figure out how to do stuff. Or perhaps you work seated all day in the pharmacy rolling meds. And if you’re young enough or athletic enough, you “run” papers up to the pharmacy.
If you think you can’t do this, you’re wrong. Very young people come and work hard and do good work. Very old people come and work hard and do good work. Those who are normally hermits learn to live constantly in close contact with lots of people. Garrulous people learn how to deal with hermits. It IS expensive. The in country costs usually run $1000 and then there’s airfare to be considered. There’s not much in the way of personal expenses on top of that unless one likes to shop in the markets, and there’s sometimes a day to do that. But the rewards gained from the work and introducing people to God far outweigh any dollar value or physical stress. You never know what one kindness, one touch, or even one quip might do in the cause of Christ.
Ecuador Medical Mission - February 2015
For pictures of the trip, see http://kcmphotos.photoreflect.com/store/thumbpage.aspx?e=9526110
KCMPhotos.photoreflect.com > Ecuador Medical Mission February 2015
On Wednesday, February 11, 2015 I went to the airport after Bible study for a late night flight out of Phoenix. Flights to Ecuador had been hard to find at reasonable prices, and the best deal I could find meant flying overnight to Miami, then catching a mid-morning flight into Quito to arrive mid-afternoon. At least it was better than making five stops and taking two days to arrive or having really long layovers of ten hours or more somewhere. The flights were uneventful and actually left and arrived on time!
I knew someone from the Quito School of Biblical Studies would be there to meet me. One of the fellows from the Colón church is a taxi driver and he frequently makes airport runs for people coming in to visit the church or the school. Imagine my surprise when I saw a very good friend of mine from previous mission trips standing at the exit gate in the airport! Brittany was an AIMS missionary to Bolivia and has come to Ecuador several times for the medical missions. She recently married a Bolivian and he was there with her. As it turns out, Brittany's mom was coming to participate in the medical mission and was on the same flight with me. When I met her, I realized that she had sat just a few rows in front of me on the plane. So we crammed five people and all of our luggage into one small taxicab and made the hour and a half drive to Quito.
Most of the participants were coming in on Friday. I had chosen to arrive early because I intended to purchase Bibles to carry into the jungle with us. A friend of mine in Ecuador had arranged for the purchase before I got there, and the Bibles were already sitting there waiting for me when I arrived. So, I had time to work on meds.
One of the major tasks of a medical mission is packaging up the medicines for distribution. For example, we normally send everyone home with albendazole, which is a pill that kills stomach worms. We also give everyone two months' worth of vitamins, so both children and adult vitamins have to be packaged. Unless we want to do this every day, we need to do it before we go into the jungle. At least in the city we have cooler temperatures, dryer air, and clean tables to work on! So, all day on Friday I packaged children's vitamins. It's not much fun, and it's really boring. Counting out 15 tablets, getting them into one of the small plastic bags, adding the necessary desiccant, making sure the bag is sealed and labeled just doesn't have a lot of zing, even if you are doing it in a foreign country and speaking a foreign language while doing it!
On Saturday it was more of the same, but with more people. We spent most of the morning working on meds. By the time we were loading up to leave we had done about 1000 packages of wormer, about the same number of vitamin dosages plus the various pain meds that are always in high demand. Then it was onto a bus with all of our bags for a short drive up to Ibarra for the night, where we worked on even more meds after dinner.
By Sunday morning our full contingent had finally arrived. Immediately after an early breakfast we loaded onto two buses for the long drive over the mountains and down into the jungle city of Borbón at the mouth of the Cayapas River, arriving about noon. Dropping down out of the Andes mountains into the heat of the jungle at noon isn't perhaps the best planning, but that's the way it works. The men loaded the canoes while the women stood guard over the hundreds of bags, crates of food, medicines, and supplies. The Ecuadorians who had come to meet us on the river know how to do this, and it only took about an hour to get all the food, gear and bodies loaded onto canoes and headed up the river.
The river Cayapas is a major thoroughfare in the northwestern province of Esmeraldas. It starts out really wide and huge, then grows ever narrower. The banks, which at Borbón are not very high, reach canyon depth quickly as the river flows through the mountains. When the river is high (because of lots of recent rain) the trip is fast and short. When the river is low, it can be very long and slow. This year the river was high. The group that had just returned from the river reported lots of rain every day. That meant a fast river. So the 45-mile trip upriver was completed in only about three and a half hours. And it rained - as usual - on the way, so we all arrived wet.
Once we arrive, there's all the luggage and cargo to be unloaded and carried to its appropriate place. That involves climbing the 75 steps from the river to the kitchen, or the 20 more steps and the path up to where the meds and supplies are stored, or the balance of the steps on up to the lodge. The lodge is called Kumanii which means "friend" in the local language. It is the center of our activity on the river. There are several permanent evangelists who live and work there. Besides the work of simply living in this difficult environment, their task is to evangelize the area.
Living in this area is difficult. Working in it is even more difficult. The only pathway through this coastal jungle area is the river. That means that one must have a canoe, and the canoe must be motorized if one wants to get anywhere and back in a day. The local families have small dugouts that are poled along and children learn to use them at an early age. They are the school buses for those that go to school. One stands in the canoe to pole it along, and usually there are no seats. Larger, motorized canoes zip along the center of the river, following the deepest channel. Depending on the depth and flow of the river, they can transport 15-20 people or fewer people if they're carrying a lot of gear. When traveling on the river one expects to get wet. Even if it doesn't rain, which is rare, there is the spray or even a possible tip-over. All are expected.
Although river travel is relatively safe and the boatman are well-trained in handling the canoes and their weight through the swift current, there can be problems. If boats are over used, they become water-logged and sit too low in the water. If they aren't balanced correctly, they can tip over easily. And there can be accidents. On this particular journey, we witnessed one such accident. A fellow was traveling quite fast and was likely inebriated. He apparently hit a floating log or something, and his motor flipped up, taking the man and the canoe with it. Days later they were still looking for him.
There are few supplies available along the river. The largest town does have stores and even an internet coffee shop. Occasionally one sees a sign for gasoline, which is required for powering the canoe motors. For nearly all services one must go back out to Borbón, which is a 3-4-hour boat ride away. Locals do grow some vegetables, but not many, as most of their agricultural efforts are devoted to cash crops. They raise pigs and some cattle. A few have horses. Even large animals are brought in and out on canoes. There are always some chickens in the village. The farm and pastureland is high on the bluff above the river, and the paths to them are steep and difficult.
Daily life is simple. For most it consists of spending time working in the fields tending the plantains, coffee, cacao and other crops. The daily fare consists mostly of rice and plantains. Some suck the coating off the ripe cacao beans, which is rich tasting but contains few nutrients. Some suck on caña, cut pieces of sugar cane. Laundry is a daily undertaking and is done on the concrete down by the river. If there is no concrete, then a rock will have to do. The washing is done with a paddle. Clothes are soaped, then beaten, then rinsed. They are then carried, wet, back up the steep stairway or embankment and hung on the porch railings to dry. In a land where it rains nearly every day and sometimes all day, dry is a relative term.
The population in this area is a combination of two types. The original people are the chachi. Speaking a language called chapa'alachi, they live in small family groups. They are small of stature with dark hair and eyes and brown skin. They are an aboriginal group whose history goes back long before the time of the Incas in South America. Their story is that they originated in the Amazon jungle east of the Andes. They migrated into the mountains to find better food sources, then fled down the west side of the Andes to the coastal jungle to avoid being captured by the Incas. When the Spaniards arrived on the continent, the chachi were located in a region so remote and impregnable that they were never found. They have simple lives and simple desires. The younger people speak both Spanish and chachi, but the older folk speak only chachi. One of the curiosities of their culture is that clothing is optional, and until recent years most women and children did not wear clothes. There are still older women who will wrap a cloth around their waist when we come to their village, and young children frequently play a natural.
The second group of people is a black population descending from escaped slaves. When a ship carrying their ancestors sank off the north coast of Ecuador, the slaves aboard made it to shore and went inland as far as possible to escape recapture. They formed villages along the river that are thriving and busy. They are an energetic and busy people, large of stature. Their language is now Spanish, but their music and customs still have strong African influences.
The two groups of people live harmoniously but separated. The chachi forbid marriage outside of their own group, and even interaction between the two groups is limited. This is a situation that the evangelists - and even our medical mission teams - must respect. A clinic held in a chachi village will not see blacks that live even right across the river. Nor will the chachi attend a clinic held in a black village. There are exceptions, of course. In Zapallo Grande, the largest town on the river, the two groups live and work face to face, if not together. In Loma Linda, which is just downriver from the Kumanii camp, blacks are occasionally invited to attend worship and our clinics. At Kumanii, both groups are welcome and attend worship together. There is no animosity between the two groups, simply a tacit agreement to live in the same area, but differently and apart.
Evangelizing these two groups can be difficult. The chachi have little religion of their own. Catholicism, which is the state religion of Ecuador, made inroads into the black villages, and some towns have Catholic church buildings. Evangelistic groups have worked in the area for several years, but few have gone as deep into the jungle as the group at Kumanii. Many of the chachi cannot read, but they listen attentively to the teachings of the evangelists. Language is always an issue, and several of the evangelists are learning chapala'achi. There is even a partial translation of the Bible available in chapala'achi, but it is incomplete and after studying it the evangelists found that there are errors in it. So it must be used carefully. The black population is quite receptive to the Gospel, but they have been exposed to the form of the Gospel preached by the Catholic church, which is basically a requirement of rituals with little or no understanding of the Bible and what it really says. The remoteness of the area adds to the difficulty. Although villages are fairly close together in miles, they are separated by culture and lack of transportation. If one has no canoe, or if the river is too low or too high and swift, there is no way of leaving one's own village. Keeping regular appointments is not a part of a culture in which every day is exactly like the previous or the next. Many people over the age of 40 don't even know how old they are, and many frequently don't know what day it is. No one wears a watch, and setting a definite time for a meeting is iffy at best. A Bible study set for 7:00 here might be well attended. But in an area where transportation is dependent on a lot of factors, people might show up anywhere between 5 and 10. That happens even in the cities. At best one can be set for a certain day and perhaps morning or afternoon. Since river travel is most difficult at night, travel after dark is avoided.
One of the good things about establishing Bible studies in the area is that if one person asks for a study, one can be assured that there will be many more in attendance. Sometimes it's the entire village that attends. Sometimes it's just the immediate household. But for sure, there will be several people reached in one study. And as the studies continue, usually the numbers increase. The result of one such study group was the baptism of an elderly man in Calle Mansa. He was the leader of the village and was quite ill when we arrived. One of our doctors visited with him in his home, and he expressed his desire to be baptized. So, with the assistance of many of the village, water was hauled up from the river to fill a tank. Taking the man on his hammock, several lowered him into the water to be baptized.
So, finally, what did we do on this mission trip? We arrived at Kumanii late afternoon on Sunday. On Monday at 9:00 AM we were set up for a clinic at Kumanii itself with the villages of Loma Linda and San Miguel both invited to attend. We treated about 250 people, working until after 5:00. The following day we left early, loading the boats immediately after breakfast and set up a clinic in the village of Calle Mansa. Again, we treated about 250 people, arriving back to the lodge in the late afternoon. The following day we worked in the even smaller, poorer village of El Progreso. Both of these were chachi villages. On Thursday we visited Telembí, a black village down river. There we were invited into their brand new town center, so we did not have to trek the medicines and supplies all the way to the top of the hill to the school where we had worked in prior years. The building was clean and had power and lights. But there was no water for the installed bathroom. In fact, it was being used as a storage room and the lavatory was full of supplies.
On Friday we loaded up quite early and headed back out to Borbón. From there we were bussed out to the coast, going around the point and down the west coast, then inland to the mountain town of San Pedro Maldonado - from the bare-bones life at Kumanii to the luxury of the jungle resort of Arashá. There was little time to enjoy the luxury, however, because at 8:00 AM we had finished breakfast and were loading the bus to travel into town where we would work a short day at the church building in San Pedro Vicente de Maldonado.
Among the chachi people we found lots of malnutrition, hunger, stomach worms and dehydration plus general aches and pains from years of hard work and even harder living. In the black village we found less of the illness that come from poverty but more of the illness that come from hard work. In PVM we found some more serious ailments. Our last patient of the day there was a man brought in by his granddaughters. He was a diabetic on medication and well cared for by a housekeeper. When the housekeeper went to visit family, his life fell apart rapidly, and the granddaughters found him in dire straits. On top of having a blood sugar count of 525, he had a lesion on his back that had grown exponentially over just a few days. We did what we could to lower his sugar count immediately and managed to get him into a taxi on the way to the emergency room of the hospital. It left all of us wanting to know how he fared there, but we had no way of communicating with the family once we left there.
We arrived back into Quito late in the afternoon on Saturday, and most of the group had late night or early morning flights out. So, they had time to freshen up a bit before leaving again for the airport and their long flights home. We had treated well over 1200 people. The evangelists had set up Bible studies in the villages we visited. Our presence on the river was well noted, and the people responded to our concern for them. Some were introduced to God and to Jesus. At least one found salvation. It was just one more week spent being the face, hands and feet of God in a part of the world where He is relatively unknown.
Belize Report - 2014
For several years Kathy McClure participated in evangelistic trips to Belize with a group from a Church of Christ in Wichita Falls, TX. These trips are organized by Larry Smith, one of the elders in conjunction with local evangelists working in Belize. The trips are a week long, and each day the group sets up "shop" at one of the local churches of Christ or in some public building where they do Bible studies and give out eyeglasses and sunglasses. The Bible studies are advertised from street corners and crossings. People either stop what they're doing to take advantage of the study, or they come back.
The studies are based on three lessons written by one of the men from the Wichita Falls church. They center around the authority of the Bible, the person of Jesus, and the Gospel message. By reading the scripture and completing fill-in-the-blank questions, the students not only learn what the Bible says, but also learn to answer questions based on the Bible, not on their own knowledge or what someone else has said. That in itself is a real eye-opener for many of the students. At the end of the three lessons, the students are encouraged to consider giving their lives to Christ and being baptized. If they desire to do so, they are then led through a fourth lesson about the cost of discipleship. Based on their decision at the end of that lesson, they are immediately taken to the ocean or a local pond for the baptism.
Kathy's participation in this venture has been to translate the lessons into Spanish, to provide Spanish-language New Testaments, and to conduct lessons in Spanish. Even though the official language of Belize is English, about 1/2 of the people speak Spanish. Many of them do not read Spanish, as they did not learn it in school but it is spoken in their home. So sometimes the lessons are slow and tedious as Kathy must make sure they understand the material. The lessons are designed to be done one-on-one, but as there are many Spanish students and only one teacher, Kathy's sessions usually end up being group sessions.
The group works in a different town each day, then visits an additional congregation on Sunday for worship. One of the congregations visited is located on Ambergris Caye, the northernmost island off the shore of Belize. The church there has been struggling with very few members for many years, but recently has been enthused by the energy and intelligence of a young evangelist and his wife who do not live on the island, but travel there for the weekend. Since they undertook this work, the attendance numbers have skyrocketed and the local church members are greatly encouraged. This is the type of reaction that is extremely gratifying to the mission group, as it means their efforts have taken root.
Ecudaor Report - 2014
Each year for the past 16 years Kathy McClure has participated in one or more medical mission trips to Ecuador. The work in Ecuador is very well organized through the Quito School of Biblical Studies. This is a three-year in-depth college-level course designed to prepare students for evangelism and the establishment of new congregations. For several years a medical mission would be planned for an area where there was a new church plant, to bolster the local church and to bring people in. While the thrust of the missions is medical, the goal is spiritual. Based on the example of Jesus who not only taught but healed, the missionaries working in Ecuador decided to combine medical missions with evangelistic missions. So the idea of the medical missions was born.
With doctors and nurses, translators and support people, the group is located in an area to conduct medical clinics for a week. In some areas they work in the same location all week, while in other areas they work in a different town or village each day. Students from QSOBS visited the area a few days/weeks prior to the mission and passed out tickets for the clinic. As people attended the clinic and were tended to, they were also counseled, prayed for and encouraged to do Bible studies. Many of them not only set up studies but attended the preaching conducted each evening during the mission. It's always interesting to see that the first night of the mission trip most of the attendees are local members and the mission group. By the second evening, many of the people treated in the clinic show up to listen, and by the end of the week nearly everyone seen in the clinic, and sometimes everyone in town, is there.
For the last several years the emphasis has been on working in the jungles of Esmeraldas, the province in the northwest corner of the country. Working from a lodge maintained by and for local evangelists, the mission group canoes out each day to a different village along the river, treating both the chachi people - an aboriginal group of the region - and the Ecuadorian-African villages that dot the landscape. This is a very remote area where the only transportation is via canoes on the river and the river is the center of all activity. The chachi are a very reticent people and do not welcome visitors into their villages. In order to enter the village, one must be invited by the local village head.
Medical missions are a means of gaining inroads into the villages so that the evangelists can set up Bible studies with the residents. Once one person asks for a Bible study, then the evangelists can enter the village. And in one study group, they can reach many people - either the entire extended family or even the entire village.
The spread of the Gospel along the Cayapas River has been progressing slowly with a lot of work and effort. Churches are being established, albeit very small ones, and people are responding. The presence of the evangelists is now well-established and the lodge has become known as a place were anyone is welcome at any time. Here they worship together, study together and pray together. While it is not the intent of the workers there to break down the long-established social barriers in the area, it is encouraging that they find as people turn to God they become more open to working and worshiping together.