Blessing upon Blessing
December was an awesome month. The first Sunday, our church service was blessed with the presence of Sister Aracely. Over a year ago, she was diagnosed with cancer when they did a biopsy on a grapefruit-sized tumor on her neck. She’s not been able to come to church as she was fighting her battle with cancer. But now Jesus has healed her! She shared her amazing story and encouraged us so much. She said, “Dear brethren, don’t be discouraged when you are going through difficulties. Consider it joy because Jesus has called you to rise above them. He will give you strength and you will grow.” I’m sure I’ve read that somewhere. (James 1:2-4)
The kids at the school heard that kids in the El Recreo neighborhood (where our sister church is located) probably wouldn’t get new clothes for the New Year. New Year’s is celebrated here by wearing new clothes. It’s a big deal, even bigger than gift-giving at Christmas. So, they decided to do a clothing drive. I love that they wanted to share with people they didn’t even know, but they felt compassion for them. And LOTS of clothes were donated.
Another blessing, and I haven’t even gotten to Christmas yet, is that three people got baptized! Mireya has been attending church for several years and her sister, who works with our children, finally asked her, “What’s holding you back from committing fully to Jesus?” She replied, “Nothing. I guess I should get baptized.” Jose and Lupe’s 11-year-old son also professed his faith through baptism and so did his cousin Bryan. The heavens rejoiced and so did we!
Tis the Season to Party
Thursday December 22 Centinela School had its Christmas party. We had a general assembly where Pastor Jose and his wife Lupe showed off their acting skills as a married couple stressed out with Christmas preparations. The kids loved seeing them have fun with their roles.
Then each classroom had their independent parties with LOADS of food and activities which mostly gravitated around eating. They had appetizer types of food, but also, the kids got to decide what menu they wanted for an actual meal. I went around to the classrooms taking pictures. As I left each one, they made sure I didn’t leave empty handed. Every classroom gave me a plate of food. Turns out all the kids in the school like chicken, rice and pasta salad. The recipes and presentations varied, but I went home with more chicken, rice and pasta salad than I could eat in a week. I felt like a taste-tester. First grade won. They served their chicken with a side of pork.
The same day, after lunch, the afternoon preschool also had their Christmas party. And after that our children’s Bible school had their Christmas party. Lupe and her sisters who work at the school were worn out by then, so the youth group and other adults from church took charge of the last party. The youth did a skit about Jesus being the true meaning of Christmas.
We had a couple more parties on Friday, Christmas Eve Eve. IAM MissionEcuador, i.e. Samuel and Paola, took out the school staff for lunch at an Italian place. There’s no Italian restaurant in Samborondon, so we went to Guayaquil where there are maybe a handful. It was so fun to watch the teachers trying new food. Most of us ordered lasagna. Third grade teacher, Piedad, commented to me after her first bite was, “I’m not sure about this. It seems to have a lot of cheese.” My thought was, “YES!!!” She was delighted to find it also had pasta and tomato and meat sauce.
That evening Samuel and Paola hosted the church leaders for a Christmas party in their home. Not everyone was able to make it due to seasonal illnesses, but those of us who did had a great time of fellowship and reflection on the season.
Then we introduced them to the (in)famous white elephant gift exchange. It was hilarious how they got down the “stealing” part, but I’m not sure the “white elephant” part made it across culturally. The difference in a white elephant gift exchange is that you spend little to no money on gag gifts. Lupe lamented to me afterwards, “I wonder what the person was thinking to wrap up a package of toilet paper as a gift!”
Jose and Lupe invited me to spend Christmas Eve with them and Jose’s sister’s family. I was so excited to see what a traditional Ecuadorian Christmas is like. I asked if I could bring anything. They said to buy 5 loaves of this special seasonal bread that they sell at stands they set up specifically for that purpose. I admit, I left it rather late to get the bread and there was only one stand left. I was able to make my purchase and apparently, I did a good job. The family later was remarking how good the bread was. 🙂
We drove around town before going to Jose’s sister’s house for dinner to see the Christmas sights. I noticed many houses with parties out front. There were chairs gathered around a young girl dressed as a beauty queen and people were handing her gifts. They looked like birthday parties in front of many homes, too many to be coincidence. Lupe explained that’s how some families celebrate Jesus’ birthday. They pick a girl put her in a frilly dress and a “Little Christmas Princess” sash and give her gifts. When I asked, “Why?” I only got an “I don’t know” shrug in response. You know the shrug.
The main, actually the only, event of the evening was dinner, to Adrian’s delight.
It included roasted chicken, roasted pork, Christmas fruit salad (Downey folk, think bionico), and the bread. Turns out Christmas Eve is one of two days a year that they don’t eat rice. I’m sure some families can’t resist and have rice anyway.
We sat around the table chatting for a couple hours and I learned gift exchanges aren’t an Ecuadorian tradition. Maria, Jose’s niece who lives with us, is from a much more rural part of Ecuador. She told me her family doesn’t observe Christmas. They’ve heard of it, but they don’t decorate or put up a tree or have a special church service. It’s just a day off. Jose explained that most families barely have the money for essentials, let alone non-essentials. So it’s considered something frivolous that city people and Americans make a big deal of. That shut my mouth and gave me food for thought as we walked home well after midnight (We were far from the last ones out late.) I had told Lupe that I had a gift for the family and asked when would be an appropriate time to give it to them. She said when we return from the dinner. So, when we got back I handed her the gift with the family gathered round. She thanked me and said good night. Then they took it into the bedroom where I assume they opened it.
New Year’s dinner is similar if not identical to Christmas. It’s way too hot to roast a whole turkey, so they roast chicken and pork. One thing that is a must is to have new clothing for the New Year. In fact, the shops are busier with last minute shopping on New Year’s Eve than on Christmas Eve. After fighting your way through sweaty shoppers all day, you get home, shower and gussy up in your new clothes, have dinner in your new clothes, take family photos in your new clothes, and then you head out to walking around town showing off your new clothes, bumping into friends and neighbors wishing them a happy and prosperous New Year. That night was special for us because Maria’s mom and siblings were visiting for the first time. I skipped going out because the crickets began their invasion that night. So, after dinner and filling in as family photographer, I watched Netflix in my bug hut as fireworks went off outside.
Another New Year’s tradition is “monigotes”. They make papier-Mache figures, you can purchase or make your own, and they come in all shapes and sizes, like piñatas. But instead of candy, you fill them with firecrackers, all kinds. The whole week between Christmas and New Year’s you get bombarded with requests for money. They’ll even stop your car with a rope across the road. When I finally understood what they were asking for I was flabbergasted. They use the donations to buy the fireworks to fill their figurines. I confess, I didn’t give money so they could see it go up in smoke. But, I do understand why you would prefer to use someone’s money for that. These are the fireworks going off on NewYear’s Eve. Apparently, they place their “monigote” in the middle of the street and light it… yes, on fire… and all the fireworks inside go off. Everyone has a story of how a friend or relative lost an eye/finger/hand one year while lighting the “monigote”. I was glad to be inside that night. It’s supposed to symbolize doing away with the old year and welcoming in the new year.
Odds and Ends
I have given up writing in cursive on the white boards at school because I spend so much time explaining my letters. Apparently, cursive letters are different. I caught a moment when a teacher had written out the alphabet in capital letters and snapped a picture. The Spanish alphabet has a few extra letters, like the “Ñ” and the “Ch”. However, it’s the “H” that really throws me for a loop.
One of my favorite dishes in the world is Peruvian “lomo saltado”. I got to have it when our Ecuador mission team went out for our Christmas dinner.
It is cricket season and I don’t mean the English sport. This means that after the first soft rains, crickets come up out of the ground and invade the town. These crickets aren’t content to hide in a corner out of the way. They like to chew little holes in clothes. They fly around street lights and then attack humans with kamikaze-like determination. The picture below is what the shop keeper on the corner from the school swept up one morning when he opened. His comment was, “It’s nice that they aren’t really bad this year.”
Bolivar and his wife Katherine accepted Jesus at our Christmas Eve service.
I am so thankful to finally have a bookshelf!
That is all… for now.
I hope you had a great December, too! Peace.