Weep With Those Who Weep

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

Forty-one hours of travel, and approximately seven hours of sleep. But the day we arrive in Paute, we hit the ground running.

Monday night, we meet with our youth group. While there hasn’t been a gathering at SIP 91 in months, those same teens & young adults have been faithful to continue the meetings. Anywhere from 12 to 20 youth read, study, and even memorize the Word of God every single week at Iglesia Renacer.

On nights like these, we thank God that it’s still legal to join together and worship in Ecuador. That our meetings aren’t held in secret, that our afflictions are few and our blessings are many.

Around 7:00pm, we are reunited at the church. Big hugs, bright smiles, and loud laughter. How has it been five months already? How will I leave them in four short weeks?

We jump into the back of Hermano Santiago’s pickup truck and drive to the top of La Loma de Paute, the highest point in our village. This is where Jenni’s family lives, miles from the school, market, and church. They make the climb down the mountain every day, like so many others in our community.

“Jenni hasn’t been to a Bible meeting in weeks,” Santiago explains. “Her family is discouraged. Their grandmother’s health is failing – fast.”

Jenni’s mother meets us at the door. She looks completely exhausted, but she beckons us inside. Some of us sit on the wooden furniture, others stand against the walls. We are quiet & still.

Cancer. They discovered it three months ago, but it was already much too late. No medicine, no treatment, no physician could make a difference now. Now it is up to God.

Everyone in the room is visibly shaken. Jenni’s grandmother is approaching eternity with each shallow breath. Our bright smiles and loud laughs are absent now. We surround the sick bed & pour out our hearts.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalms 34:18

We do not pretend to understand, because very few of us have lost a family member. Our human empathy does not scratch the surface of their pain. But what we cannot understand, God does.

So we begin to pray. Our voices quake, our cheeks glisten with tears.

May God comfort you.

May God strengthen you.

May God give you peace.

I can’t count the hours I’ve spent debating with these guys, who constantly leaf through their pages of highlights & scribbled notes, who constantly quote the scriptures. I can’t count the times I’ve heard their pray requests – asking each other to go to God on their behalf.

But I have never seen them like this. I have never witnessed such complete and utter vulnerability.

We are learning to rejoice with those who rejoice & weep with those who weep.

 

So All May Know,

Madeline Studebaker

There Is Still Work to Be Done

“Who knows the story of Daniel in the lions’ den?”
No one. Just like last week, and the week before that.
So I open the book and I read.
We admire the illustrations and answer questions at the end. We make crafts and memorize a Bible verse. We play games and eat snacks. We sing songs and pray.
These are our Thursday afternoons. Months have gone by and every story we tell is new to these children. David and Goliath. Jonah and the whale. All of them.
Physically, more than a few come to the program with rumbling tummies.
But spiritually? They are starving.
They do not know Jesus.
They cannot fathom a love so deep, a joy so abundant, a hope so certain.
Not until they meet Him.
So we continue in our endeavors to introduce them to Christ.
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:14-15
After five years, there is still work to be done.
Five years of outreach, bible studies, and late-night conversations about Jesus. Five years of prayer and struggle and triumph. Five years in the ministry, and it’s still growing.
From 2012, sharing Jesus with our first new friends, to 2017, spreading the Gospel from the jungle to the mountains.
Sometimes we’re overwhelmed by how many haven’t yet heard. But we rejoice in that we’re able share the precious News.
Sometimes we become terribly homesick. But we know we won’t truly shake that feeling until we reach Heaven’s pearly gates.
Sometimes we grow weary. But we must not lose heart.
Though the workers are few, the harvest is great.
So All May Know,
Madeline Studebaker

Just Like Old Times

I shouldn’t be here. I love her, but this is beyond what I can handle.
“I’m so happy you came,” Ximena* tells me.
I nod and force a smile. “Well, I needed to see you again, and meet Alejandra,”
She looks so old. Not like the girl I went to school with, not the girl I used to play with, not the girl I called a best friend.
She’s a mother now. An adult.
Someone living a life I cannot imagine — a life I don’t want to imagine.
One month ago, Ximena gave birth to a very premature little girl. She and her boyfriend didn’t expect the baby to live… but she did. They named her Alejandra.
We were able to visit Ximena after she was released from the hospital, but we weren’t allowed to see the baby. It was a very difficult visit, filled with a lot of tears and a lot of discomfort for all of us.
I asked Dad to bring us out here. I had promised Ximena we’d come see her. I told her we still loved her, that we still cared for her and we wouldn’t judge her.
So here we are, standing beside a group of concrete and thatch huts build nearly on top of each other. Swatting away flies and trying to act like the heat and stench don’t bother us.
This is what poverty looks like.
This is what it looks like and smells like and feels like.
This is what it is to see desperate people, hungry children, broken lives.
This is her home.
This is how she lives.
Dirt floors. Rough concrete walls. A rusty tin roof.  A bed that’s falling apart. A broken dresser. No light. No bathroom.
Ximena points to a tiny bundle on the bed. “This is my daughter. Madeline… I want you to hold her,”
“Okay,” Ximena hands me the baby.
Tears press on the backs of my eyeballs. Joy, confusion, happiness, and disbelief melt together into just feeling lost.
Just sitting on a bed with my best friend, talking. Just like old times.
Except not really.
In the old times, we talked about music and boys and clothes. Now, we’re talking about food and money, and Alejandra.
Part of me wants to leave. Tell her I didn’t sign up for this heartbreak and pain and seeing her like this.
And the other part of me knows that I did sign up for this. When I said, I love you, Ximena. We’re always going to be friends…
I meant that.
I didn’t give a list of conditions. I didn’t say if. I didn’t say as long as.
And neither did Jesus.
*The names in this post have been changed in order to protect the privacy of certain individuals.

But There Are Bigger Struggles

“What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten?”

“Are there many active volcanoes in Ecuador?”

“Does the government allow you to preach the Gospel?”

This makes the third year my family’s been able to video chat with Ms. Gail and the kids at Canal Lake Bible Camp. I look forward to talking with them. They always have such great questions about our host country and our ministries. Some questions I wish adults asked more frequently.

Towards the end of our interaction with the kids, one little boy introduces himself, takes a deep breath, and launches into his mission-related curiosities. About the food, the attire, the climate. And then,

“What’s the hardest thing about living in Ecuador? What’s your biggest struggle?”

We’re asked this question every year, and every year I give the same answer. It looks like I’m giving it thought, but it’s an automatic response. “I get homesick a lot. And boy, do I miss speaking English!”

 

But there are bigger struggles than the language. Struggles that I can’t explain in five minutes. Not to an elementary-schooler. Not to anyone my age. Not even to an adult, no matter how interested or sympathetic they are.

So I tell them, I tell you, that it’s homesickness. That it’s speaking Spanish.

 

I don’t mention that I still don’t feel accepted as a part of the community here in Paute.

That I’m shunned by most of the girls, and I question every guy’s motives for friendliness.

That I’m painfully conscious of everything I say and do, because it’s a reflection on missionaries, Americans, and Christians everywhere.

 

I don’t mention the hurt I experience by being forgotten by my peers in the States.

That I feel the need to live up to a certain image when I’m back on missionary furlough.

That I feel completely detached and isolated from the American culture, and I have no idea what its expectations are for me.

 

The misgivings, the doubts, the battles I’m fighting, they aren’t things I often share.

Because when I do, most of you can’t relate.

And it’s frustrating.

You can’t relate to years of having jokes made about you, in front of your face, in a language you can’t understand.

You can’t relate to someone trying to barter a few acres of land for your hand in marriage… when you’re thirteen.

You can’t relate to being ostracized by an entire town who wants nothing to do with you or your God.

 

So I’ll tell you that my struggle is with the language, and it will just be easier for both of us.

Our Return to Puca-Chikta: Part 2

[Read Part 1 of Our Return to Puca-Chikta here: http://soallmayknow.org/our-return-to-puca-chikta-part-1/]
We sit on a bench in front of her home — a hut, really — and catch up while I paint faces.

“You were so young when you first visited our village,” Evelin says. “You’ve changed a lot.”
I have changed. Our family had just moved to Ecuador when we visited Puca-Chikta for the first time. [I actually wrote about the experience here: http://soallmayknow.org/voy-un-paso-mas-im-going-one-step-further/]
“You’ve changed too,” I remind her. “Viejita, you’re old now.” She’s thirteen… in a few years, she’ll be old enough to get married here.

Our little conversation continues, and I debate inwardly on whether I should ask about school.
“So, Evelin, how’s school?” I probe.
Her eyes shift away from me.
“School?” I ask again.
She won’t look at me. She won’t answer.

There she goes, breaking my heart into a million pieces.
I assure her that it’s fine, and I change the subject as fast as possible.
But inside? I’m screaming.
Children receive such little education in remote villages like this one. Government funding is minimal, and the teachers aren’t equipped to do their jobs. Many of them haven’t been well educated either.
And now it appears that Evelin’s not getting any of it. None of the classroom learning at all.

It’s not fair.
And it’s not just the school thing — it’s everything.
It’s not fair that Evelin’s family of seven is living in a tiny, three-walled, dirt floor shanty.
It’s not fair that her little brothers’ teeth are rotting away, because the can’t see a dentist to figure out what’s the matter.
It’s not fair that her little sisters have worms eating away at the insides of their eyes, and they can’t see a real doctor.

Evelin wakes up to either unbearable heat and stench, or rain soaking her through the roof. She goes to sleep at night with an empty stomach and an unsaved soul.

Evelin lives a simple life. It’s filled with many horrible things, and it’s missing the most important thing. That’s a harsh reality I have to face. And I can try to imagine… but I will never understand.

I don’t claim to understand just because it’s simple.
I’m aware of her great needs, small hopes, and no idea of the world outside her village. But I don’t dare claim to understand her life until I’ve endured the same impoverishment and affliction.

She has nothing. Pray that she accepts Christ.
Because then she will have everything.

So All May Know,
Madeline Studebaker

Our Return to Puca-Chikta: Part 1

Dusk. The sun has stopped beating down on us and the shadows are starting to fall. 
We unload the car. Boxes of paint, bracelets, tracts, jump ropes, and a soccer ball from our friends in the States. It’s not long before a dozen children surround us, consumed with curiosity. 
Genuine smiles light up their faces, shining through the filth and grime that covers them.
Dad, Derrick, and Elijah untangle a jump rope and initiate a game. Abigail and I open the containers of face paints. Mom draws some stragglers out from behind a clump of bushes. 
A group of six wanders toward the small crowd around us, and I recognize them instantly. Over two years since our families lost contact, but here they are, by whatever miracle. 
And yes, I chose to believe that it is a miracle. 
Evelin, the oldest, extends her hand in a traditional Kichwa greeting. A smile spreads across her face. 
She’s grown up so much. This was the little girl who guided her siblings from one side of the jungle to the other… just to spend the day with us. Both of us remember those days — the ones we spent drawing with chalk, playing soccer, eating rice and beans. Those days meant a lot to my family, but they meant even more to Evelin’s family. 
Our home was a safe place for them. Not because our roof didn’t leak as much, or because we had enough food to share, but because our home was filled with love. And that’s not something they had much of. 
But now, it’s something they’re being exposed to again.
[Read about how we met Evelin’s family here: http://soallmayknow.org/something-special-about-babies/]
One by one, the children sit beside me to get their faces painted. No one seems bothered by my obvious lack of artistic skills, or language skills. I ask each child their name and try to remember it… trying, but not exactly succeeding.
There’s a lot of wiggling around, and giggling, and trying to communicate across the language barrier that, unfortunately, still exists for my family. 
Fortunately, there’s no translation needed for the universal language: laughter.  
Because there’s laughter too. Laughter that rises up and breaks through the clouds and is audible in Heaven. 
This opportunity — it’s something to be truly grateful for!
We’re impacting this village with the love of God, we’re being His hands and feet. 
They come for the face paint and games… but they leave a little closer to getting to know Him. 
So All May Know,
Madeline Studebaker

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32 / 147 million

Mom’s rocking a sleepy baby, Abigail’s helping the girls with homework.
I’m holding onto a very rambunctious little fellow who’s trying to eat crayons.
I’m tired, I’m cranky, and I’m starting to wonder why I’m even here.
Then I hear it: “Yo tengo gozo, gozo, gozo, gozo en mi corazón!” Juan Carlos singing. Not just any song, either, a Jesus song. Mom hears it too. She smiles.
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That’s a Jesus song! We taught him that! 
I want to jump up and down, screaming and flapping my arms around like a crazy person. Instead, I smile so big and hard my cheeks start to hurt and my eyes water.
It’s these little victories. 
It’s every time they hand me sheet of paper with multi colored scribbles and say “para vos, pues.”
It’s when they reach up with their chubby little hands and want me to lift them out of their crib.
It’s those days I get them to talk about how school’s going and why they love science.
It’s watching their faces when we get there each week… and when we tell them we’re coming back next week, too.
It’s this stuff that seems insignificant, that makes it worthwhile.
It’s these kids, and their trust and their love, that show me just how important this is.
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With 168 hours in a week, two hours every Friday doesn’t seem like much.
And in a world filled with 147 million orphans, thirty-two kids don’t seem like a lot. 
It’s impossible for us to make a difference on our own. But with God…
He’s going to change their lives. In big ways, in ways we can’t understand.
We’re just his hands and feet.
So maybe thirty-two is just a few.
It still leaves a huge percentage of orphaned children unreached. Of the 147 million orphans in the world… we’re reaching less than a millionth of one percent.
But guess how many God is willing to reach, by working through any of us?
Yeah. All of them.
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Collage, 7/4/15

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If there is no road at all…

Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah 29:11