Family is Everything

How often do you drop everything to have three hour meals with your family? What age were you (or will you be) “kicked” out of your parent’s house? Do you always hug and kiss your family when you first walk in the door and when you’re about to leave?

I have been blessed to have grown up in a family that values one another and time spent together, and has positive relationships with extended family. I grew up having family dinners after school, going to church together, going on family vacations, working together around the house, and celebrating all holidays and birthdays with both immediate and extended family. What I thought was a lot of family time, is nothing in comparison to the time that Ecuadorians dedicate to family.

My family never spends three hours eating one meal… not even on Thanksgiving or Christmas! Sure we have gatherings in which we spend quality time together for hours, but it is often focused on other activities. In Ecuador, it is normal on the weekends to have meals with extended family that have no schedule but typically are all afternoon or all night events. This is a weekly custom, not a holiday event.

I am learning that while in my West-Michigan culture family is valued, as it is in Ecuador, the dynamics within the family are very different. The issue of machismo is very prevalent throughout Latin America and is evident in the family dynamics in Ecuador, for example. The purpose of the wife or mother in the home is to work in the house so that the man of the house can rest. It is frowned upon for a man to be helping with cleaning in the home or doing laundry or cooking. Because of this reality, many women either are unemployed to work in the house, or the families hire a family employee to help fulfill this role. Often in the United States, we think of people who have help in their home to be upper class individuals but in Ecuador it is more weird if the family doesn’t have someone helping in their home. Finances are not a factor in the equation.

Growing up in my home, Saturday mornings were dedicated to “job lists.” Given the fact that my siblings and I always dreaded them, I realize how important this aspect is in being part of a family. In Ecuador, all of the household chores are for the wife/ mother/ maid to take care of so that the man of the home and the children can rest. If you are a working man, earning money is your only responsibility. If you are a child in a family that has given you the opportunity to study, your only responsibility is to study. Children and young adults in Ecuador do not learn how to work or save money, and this becomes problematic when they themselves get married and move out. (A quick side note on when “kids” move out of their parents home in Ecuador: it is normal for kids in their upper 20’s up until 30 to be living with their parents). They move from a world where everything was given to them, literally everything, to a world where they are on their own without any phase of transition. I was talking with a woman yesterday who was talking about this issue who told me that this is a problem because she got married at age 30 and had no idea how to do a load of laundry, clean, or cook anything. My parents have always helped and supported me and my brothers tremendously, but they also taught us to be responsible by giving us specific responsibilities that had to be carried out from a young age. Wow, am I so thankful for that now!

Hellos and goodbyes are also of incredible importance in Ecuador. This goes for family especially, but really applies to every aspect of the culture. One cannot enter or leave the house without saying hello to everyone and giving them a hug with a kiss on the cheek– it would be considered very rude. This same custom is important with friends and anyone you meet. The first day I got to school I was so thrown off by everyone greeting everyone, (including professors). The first time one of my professors greeted me, I was so thrown off by what was happening and I felt like a rude gringa. I greet my friends and family at home, but not so formally. Physical contact is also not always required when meeting up with friends and family at home, but in Ecuador they explain that they are very affectionate.

It has been very interesting to learn and experience these different cultural dynamics within family. I have learned about the aspects that could benefit the family culture of the United States, but also some of the difficult cultural realities that Ecuador faces within familial roles.

Lili & Edwin

This week I began my service learning placement in a small town called Lumbísi. This small village is only about 15 minutes from where I live and here I met two shining lights for Jesus! I am serving in a business run out of the home of an indigenous family. They work in agriculture, off of the land that they have inherited from their family to produce Chocho (a locally grown healthy protein) and a large variety of fruits and vegetables.

Tuesday was my first day. After meeting the couple and getting to know a bit of their story, I worked with Lili to harvest avocados for this week’s sales. As we were harvesting we got to know each other a little bit and she was glowing the entire time. She played worship music and spoke truth over me as we were in the garden… it was exactly what I needed.

Before Tuesday, I hadn’t met any Ecuadorians who were Christians. There are many Catholics here, few Christians, and many who don’t practice any sort of religion. I quickly found out that Lili and Edwin, the sweet couple I have the opportunity to learn from, were hurting from these facts as well. They choose to live out their faith daily around people who don’t appreciate it. They choose to live their lives following God’s Word, despite their community’s rejection. They choose to live out their faith, knowing that God has a purpose for them exactly where they are at.

Thursday was day two at my placement site. We spent three and a half hours sorting through the chocho, (see attached picture), to make sure that all the broken and impure chochos were taken out. Though this task was long and monotonous, I loved it! We just sat and talked for the duration of these three and a half hours, sharing about our lives and listening to worship music. The couple was elated that I was there to help them make this process, that takes them at least 6 hours together, take 3.5 hours instead! It is amazing how even the simplest things can bring so much joy and how much you can learn by simply taking the time to talk with people.

I know that I needed this time with Lili and Edwin this week, and it feels good to know how appreciative they were of my presence as well! Knowing that I get to spend my Tuesday and Thursday afternoons with people who love Jesus, care about people, and are passionate about healthy living gives me feelings of joy and hope for what this semester will bring. I am ready to cultivate the harvest the Lord has abundantly set before me this semester!

Faith as small as a Mustard Seed

“He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'” — Matthew 17:20

A mustard seed… “Jesus, I think that’s honestly all I’ve had this week.” In the midst of trials it is so easy to forget the power our faith holds and throw away that power that lives within us into the hands of the deceiver. I am blessed. I am called. I am chosen. I am loved. I have been given a spirit of truth and power, not of fear. I have been given rest, not stress. All of my needs have been supplied.

Isn’t it funny how I know all of these truths about my Heavenly Father, yet when my schedule goes to ruins or I can’t envision my next step my thoughts begin to change as if I have no hope? Thankfully, I was also not created to do life on my own and even in the midst of heartache, I have people who are praying and cheering me on. James 1:22 commands, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Knowledge is good to have but if it isn’t ever put into practice, how useful is it? Let me tell you it’s not useful at all. My start to study abroad has been hard, frustrating, and has included daily changes and challenges. Nothing has gone as planned since my departure, and week three of having no routine had me ready to bag the experience and come home. (Don’t let me neglect that there have been fun times too), but I feel the need to have somewhat of a routine to my life.

After feeling defeated each day throughout the week, I went home and spent time repeating the knowledge of the faith I knew I had somewhere within me to only lose the battle again the next day. I was forgetting the most vital component to faith: “Do what it says.” I let my emotions take control, instead of taking advantage of the power of my little mustard seed.

Thursday January 24, 2019 I choose from the moment I woke up that I was going to have a day of hope. I used my knowledge of faith and made the decision that I was going to believe those truths no matter what obstacle the day would bring. I feel renewed with expectation for the Lord to reveal Himself to me, His purpose for me, and His joy for me as I embrace each day as a new opportunity. I don’t know a whole lot yet about what this semester is going to entail, but I know that I have to take things one day at a time (sometimes minute by minute), and use my mustard seed.

Oh right… you’re going to school there too

“How’s it going so far? I bet you’re having so much fun!” This is the content of nearly every message I’ve received over the past two weeks. While there is nothing wrong with this and I actually do appreciate the messages, I have to be honest in saying that I am not quite sure what to say.

In preparation to go abroad, I attended the mandatory orientation session given by the Center for Global Engagement at Hope. We were told that some of the things that students experience when they go abroad is difficulty in explaining how they are feeling because no one back home can really comprehend what you are experiencing. Another was that we would likely feel extreme emotions of lifetime highs and lows. Over these past two weeks, I can already say that this is so true. I have had some of the most incredible experiences in this short time already, but also have struggled with doubt and confusion.

Week two presented a new university, classes, professors, language, friends, culture. This too, was pretty overwhelming as the first week was for me, yet I loved it at the same time. The days I spent trying to picture what my school would be like when I came to Ecuador were finally given an illustration! The university campus is beautiful, the professors are very kind and patient, and the classes will challenge me. However, the best of all perks is that the university never has classes on Friday, making traveling on the weekends more of a reality!

It has been a frustrating and mentally defeating week as well. Each day this week I have had to change my class schedule at least one time, in attempt to figure out what will count for credits when I return. I spent this past fall detailing which classes I would take and emailing professors at Hope to get them all approved before I left. When I arrived and my program directors looked at my schedule, they told me that it was going to be way too hard. I was frustrated that they couldn’t have provided us with further information before we arrived, because I was not about to take a semester’s worth of classes that didn’t count for anything. After a lot more emailing and exploring every class that the university is offering this fall, I am getting close to having my full schedule set.

My mom said it best this week when she texted me,

“I’ve been thinking and praying about this and how these alterations, roadblocks, and detours cause you stress and make you doubt your choices, the things that you are doing, and make you wonder if it’s the right thing. Maybe this is a really simplistic view, but God knew that having everything approved beforehand would be your “confirmation/green light” to go [study abroad]. He may have specifically crafted that plan to you… yet when arriving in Ecuador, He has different plans and experiences for you. He is going to figure out a way for you to be in His plan, not yours. I know its hard and things going according to plan give us security and peace. God is going to use this experience to teach you a lot of things… not just school related. Being able to rest with the ups and downs and trust God is going to be vital to your experiences in life. Remember what I said to you as you left, even if things are not going according to how you thought they would or should, trust God… He will bring it all around for His good. His plans are for you, not against you!”

Here’s to a semester of taking the experiences that I am given as they come, growing through both the highs and lows, and believing that it is well no matter what!

Love from Quito,


¡Bienvenidos a Quito!

Welcome to the land where mountains surround, altitude sickness occurs, hectic traffic and crazy drivers rule the roads, and where people are relational above all things! I left my cozy small town of Zeeland, MI, Monday morning to arrive in the large foreign city of Quito, Ecuador, for the semester. Yes, for the semester… I am still trying to convince myself of this even as I am here.

I arrived late Monday night and met my fellow international students through IES on Tuesday. Together we were given a tour of old town Quito, Iglesia compañia de Jesús, Iglesia San Francisco, and Basilica del Voto National (pictures attached, see google for more!). These churches are incredible in the nature of their architecture that reveals the religious and political history of Quito. Wednesday through Friday this week were consumed with full days of orientation to learn about rules, safety, academics, culture, and tourism of Ecuador. While the information was helpful and needed, they were very long days.

Luckily, we were rewarded after a long week with a group excursion on Saturday to the Otavalo market that is famously run by the indigenous Andean people selling anything and everything handmade in hundreds of tents in the street. On our way we stopped for a typical Ecuadorian breakfast of bizcochos with coffee or tea at a small restaurant with a view of Cayambe Volcano. We also did a short hike on our way to the market to Cascada de Peguche, a beautiful waterfall, where we got to slightly test our lungs in the altitude. After a time of much fun and buying all things alpaca at the market, we went to Laguna Cayapas Cuichocha. This lagoon is in the crater of Cuichocha Volcano, which we later found out is active and the fourth most dangerous in Latin America. We took a boat around the lagoon in the crater to see the bubbling volcanic gasses being admitted to the surface of the water; it was beautiful!

Despite the excitement of being in a new country, being able to travel, and seeking out new opportunities in language, academics, and culture, I have struggled this week with feeling overwhelmed. Jumping into a new lifestyle is not easy for me and we had so much information thrown into our brains that is so foreign in just a few days of being here. I’m struggling with the idea that the middle of May feels so far away, yet I know that I will regret saying that by the time May comes around. Ecuador is a country that has so much to offer, I just need to learn how to live into the person I was created to be in a new place, with new people, and with new opportunities.

¡Hasta pronto!



(click on first photo to view as slideshow!)