More Than a Volunteer | Downey First Christian Church

As I write this, I’m watching a play develop by many members of the IberoAmerican Christian Church in Samborondon. The subject: “safe sex isn’t”. There’s no script. The roles have been assigned and reassigned. The writing is fluid as it goes. The plan is to present it as part of an evangelistic campaign to an unchurched crowd, which would probably not work in the States. I don’t know how it will come across here. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that this cross-section of the church including teens, college kids and adults are having fun sharing with each other in a way I’ve yet to see on Sundays. There’s fellowship and cooperation and a lot of laughter. No one gets to sit out. (I’ve managed to look importantly busy enough writing that they’re graciously ignoring me.) This is the body at work together and growing. It’s beautiful.

I’ve always claimed to be open to the idea of being a missionary. The truth is … it terrifies me … for many reasons I won’t get into right now. So last year, when God told me to come teach English at Centinela school in Samborondon, Ecuador, I considered myself a social volunteer, not a missionary. I saw my life wrapped up in the school during the week and I would then, diligently, attend church on Sunday. That vision evaporated soon after I got here. Things rarely turn out as you plan in life and, frankly, that’s a good thing.

School requires much less time than I had expected because I thought I’d have to write a curriculum. Turns out they have a series of workbooks to teach English for 2nd to 7th grades. They’ve used the series for years. I met with the teachers to find out how far they had gotten in the books. They had completed them.


Each teacher teaches all the subjects for their grade, including P.E., art, and, until I arrived, English. I was very confused as to why they needed me. As I tried to formulate a polite way to ask, classes started and I stepped into an Ecuadorian classroom for the first time … and I heard them speak English. And I discovered why they insisted they needed a native speaker. We work a lot on pronunciation. We struggle a lot through “But, it’s spelled like that.” “Yes, but you pronounce it like THIS.”

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On Thursday afternoons I teach another English class. It started out as an adult class, but they flaked out.  Some school parents heard about the class and started sending their kids for the extra help. I’m glad to report that their English grades have improved. We start each class with a Christian quote or Bible verse that they have to translate from English. We go over the individual meanings of the words and then put it all together to understand the truth conveyed. We also spend a lot of time going over phonetics and reinforce spelling with competitions.

I’m also helping out a bit at church.

My first Sunday at ICC Samborondon, I was surprised that no musical instruments were set up. They lost their worship leader a while back and no one stepped up to fill the void, so they played worship cds and we all sang along. The second or third week, Samuel was invited to preach. He’s a musician so he offered to lead the music, too. He recruited his wife Paola and me to sing with him.


Afterwards, the brethren kept saying how nice it was to have live music for a change. Since then, a couple young men have stepped forward with guitar skills and I sing with them.


Pastor Jose likes to sing with us, too. In fact, we went on “tour” back in July with CIY in Baba, about an hour northwest of here. With a couple CIY folk, we led a few songs of worship each night we did an evangelistic campaign.


Soon we’ll add a keyboard to the mix, played by yours truly. It’s been a couple decades since I’ve played keyboard for church. It’s a bit terrifying.


I’m also helping out with the youth group that meets on Saturday nights. Pastor Jose asked me to help the leaders out. The youth group used to run around 50, but now it seems they’ve left for one reason or another. The remaining handful — college aged now — are trying to start it up again with the younger teens.

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They’re getting their footing and gaining a bit of momentum, but still trying to figure out their identity as a group. Church culture and socio-economics play a big factor in what you do with a youth group here. A game where food is wasted is, well, wasteful. A $5 activity isn’t feasible. Oddly enough, the teens come to youth meeting seeking God, not entertainment. Last Saturday morning they all got together for a half-day fast, the first activity they’ve planned since I arrived in April. I was out of town, but I heard it went well.

It’s in these things, and others, I am the student, and maybe even, a little more than just a volunteer.
Odds and Ends
We just wrapped up the first semester. This is what the 4th grade class had to study for their semester final exam.


Ronald was creative with his 7th grade finals. He combined P.E., Culture and History into a program put on by his students. They worked in groups to present Ecuadorian folk songs in traditional costume and with traditional dances. The rest of the school got a break from exams to be the audience.


Last Sunday Samuel was invited to preach at a Menonite church just a few blocks from IberoAmerican Christian Church – El Recreo. Samuel and Paola invited me to go with them. During the announcement time, they asked all the first-time guests to stand and introduce ourselves.  Then, in unison, everyone turned toward us and said, “Welcome, Samuel, Paola and Eri[garbled].” (My name always gets butchered.)  As he wrapped up his sermon, Samuel made an altar call for prayer and most of the church went forward.  As he began praying for each person, the pastor handed him a bottle of oil to anoint each forehead.  Then he noticed a lady, we found out later she was the pastor’s sister, motioning for him to make them faint and she’d catch them.  Samuel doesn’t really lean that way and didn’t want to get a reputation for that.  So he prayed, “And in the name of Jesus, you’ll stand firm in your faith and not be toppled.”  No one fell.


I must go because I have special Downey guests to welcome. 😀



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