Don’t Be a Sad Elephant | Downey First Christian Church

I’m not sure if you know this about me: I am an introvert. This doesn’t mean I don’t like people. It means that I need alone time to recharge after being with people. I don’t get really excited about parties, but I do like to catch up with my friends.

I once heard an illustration about elephants being very social, but when they are sad or sick, they isolate themselves from the herd, maybe so they don’t bring anyone else down. Even though we humans are also created to live in community, I can relate to the sad elephant. I don’t like to be seen as an inconvenience or weak. I like to be an independent woman. But I’m learning that maybe I shouldn’t be so proud about that. Being a sad elephant is definitely not bragworthy

The other day, my friend Paola called me out for isolating myself. I explained to her how I was raised to take care of myself and not have to rely on others. For example, my dad made sure I knew how to change a tire before I was allowed to drive by myself. In contrast, she was taught that she couldn’t do things for herself, so she had to learn to depend on others. Neither philosophy is completely wrong, but definitely short of being completely right. We have a lot to learn from each other. Last year, I taught her to take the bus so she could get around on her own and now she has a car and drives herself around. She’s teaching me to ask for help because I can’t do it on my own. Nor should I.

So, I’m learning to open up to others. I’m learning to share my struggles with those around me. This used to horrify me because of my pride. A speaker at a conference I attended in Chile (more on that below) challenged me on that point. He said that as a leader you can’t expect your team or flock to open up to you if you don’t demonstrate that first. Why should they trust you if you don’t trust them?

So, with fear and trembling, I’ve started opening up to my friends, the leadership team, my youth kids… It became an issue of pride vs. obedience and I realized that obedience always requires faith. I grabbed on to Christ’s hand and begged him to not let it blow up in my face. I have to tell you: Christ has proven himself faithful. It has happened on three separate occasions just this week that me sharing my struggles has allowed those around me to open up and share their own. We spent our meeting commiserating with each other and encouraging one another. We have a stronger bond now. We feel more united in Spirit and purpose. And now I have a new freedom because I don’t feel alone with my burdens or my cross. Community is powerful.

VIVE Conference

January 31 – February 4, IberoAmerican Ministries held their first ever VIVE Conference in southern Chile. Brethren came from the States, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile for 5 amazing days of fellowship, learning, encouragement, and sharing. I was thrilled to be one of 15 that traveled from Ecuador to my native land. Paola and I got to show them around our hometown.

Ecuadorians with Santiago, Chile founder Pedro de Valdivia
(l-r) Freddy, Dubal, Lupe, Manuel, Paola, José, random girl, LuisThanks to my folks and my home church in Downey for providing the funds for me to go! My sister asked for a follow-up when I got back:

Sarah: Any thoughts on VIVE 2018 that you’d like to share with the missions committee?

Erin: It was the best conference I’ve attended. The main sessions were encouraging. The workshops challenged us to grow spiritually and mature as leaders in our church. They also had conceptual rooms where we reflected on different things like prayer, the future, sharing the gospel through tea, reconciling with our friends and enemies, etc. They were intense 5 days and I can’t wait to go back next year.  I would love to take some of the youth from Samborondón. I’m praying God will open the way for that.

Sarah: Better than ICOM or anything here in the US? That is impressive.

Erin: I may be exaggerating a bit. It was on a much smaller scale, obviously. Only 150 – 200 people. But, I enjoyed the small scale. I got to meet most of the people. It was well organized time-wise. A good variety of topics and types of activities.

The speakers mingled with us, so there was opportunity to approach them with questions and further discuss their topics. During a break I introduced myself to a tall gringo who was standing off to the side. He told me he was from Eastside Christian Church. I said, “Oh, my friend Pam had a youth minister who went by “Bubba” and now works at Eastside. Do you know him?” Turns out I was speaking to “Bubba”, aka Greg Curtis. He spoke about being like a sherpa that leads others up the mountain but doesn’t worry about whether we get the credit.

Me and “Bubba” Greg Curtis

Jeremy from Mission Ecuador team went a few weeks before the conference and helped with design and set up of the stage set, the conceptual rooms, and lots of other creative stuff. I tease him because he got a fine arts degree and became a missionary. Turns out he’s pretty handy to have on the field. =)

Jeremy’s stage set design for VIVE conference

The conceptual rooms might have been my favorite part of the conference. Those were scheduled for the very difficult afternoon stretch between 2 – 4 pm. We went through these with our church groups. One day we learned how to make and socialize with Argentine mate herb tea, in another room we focused on creating a space (physical and mental) for prayer in our lives, another room was dedicated to reconciliation, in another we learned to have intentional faith conversations with people over a cup of tea, etc. It was a completely new experience for me and I loved it. One of the rooms focused on the future.  Pastor Jose and Pastor Geovanni shared about how in Ecuador we are projecting to the future. They shared how they had to allow God heal their hearts from past hurts to move forward, how they have learned to stand together and how their differences make them a strong team. So many people came up to me after they went to the “future” room and exclaimed to me: “God is doing amazing things in Ecuador!” I can’t help but grin and say “I know!” They are living testimony of what happens when you choose to obey God no matter what. We are all learning to put the kingdom first because my life isn’t about me, it’s about Christ and proclaiming his greatness.

Pastor Jose and Pastor Geovanni led the conceptual room about the future

After the morning sessions we got divided into pre-assigned small groups where I had to share with strangers. No one from Ecuador was in my same group. Fortunately, my group leader was Esteban Labrin. He used to live with his brother Marcos in Downey. It was good to catch up with him. He and his wife Liz just had a baby and are living in Chile and working with Samuel and Paola’s home church in Maipu, Chile.

Esteban Labrin led my small group

I also got to catch up with tío Jeff and tía Kathy Phillips. They and my parents go back all the way to the 70s, language school in Costa Rica and arriving as brand new missionaries in Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorship. Kathy was my girl scout leader way back when. It was sweet to catch up with them, especially reminiscing with Kathy. Their kids are carrying on and expanding the work they began in Maipu. In fact, they led the first trip that planted the church in Samborondón back in 1993.

Jeff, me, and Kathy

Before and After the Conference

I am so thankful for the opportunity to visit Chile. I didn’t have much time to visit people outside of IAM churches, but I connected with one of my oldest childhood friends, Andrea. She and her family picked me up at the airport upon arrival and swept me off to the coast for a couple of days. We reminisced about our teen years. She’s been married to her high school sweetheart for 11 years now. Even though we’re both hitting 40 this year, her husband Pablo says the years melt away when we’re together. “Aw, how sweet!” We said simultaneously. “Yup, you both go back to being silly teenagers that giggle at everything.”  Hahahaha…

My childhood friend Andrea and me at the Rapel River in Chile

The day before flying back to Ecuador, I surprised my former pastor Jorge and his wife Cecilia by showing up at their house. They didn’t even know I was in Chile. Only people who really love you will let you get away with that. Jorge and Cecilia were my youth leaders back in the day and when my folks retired from the field, they were left in charge of the church. Their sons David and Abel have both finished college and are seeking professional employment. I remember holding them when they were babies and teaching them Sunday school when they were small. Both are taller than me now. Still just as sweet a family as ever.

Jorge, me, Cecilia, and Abel in front of La Florida church (David took the picture)

School Is Out

The school year is over, so I’m not teaching at the moment. This allows more time to spend with the church teens.  I meet with a core group of the church youth a couple times so we can practice worship songs.  We start with a devotional time.  I used to lead it, but now we take turns reading it and asking the questions. The kids are coming along opening up and sharing and also with the music.  We’ve started playing a couple songs at the youth meeting instead of singing along karaoke style.

Cindy leading the devotional time before youth music practice.

I also go visit churches and teach them our new processes for tracking attendance and offering. I know to some people it might seem like we are just teaching a form of bureaucracy. However, how do we show we are moving forward and growing without numbers to back up our claims? The young ladies I’ve taught have caught on pretty quickly and it is a weight off the pastor’s mind because it’s an practical responsibility to delegate.  A couple of weeks ago, I planned a trip to the church in Baba, about an hour north of Samborondón. I invited Hector and Natali from the youth group to accompany me. Paola volunteered to drive us, which was a relief as it is rainy season here. Some sisters in Baba had lunch ready for us when we arrived and we enjoyed a time of getting to know each other before we got down to the learning.

At Baba church teaching Andreina, Jomira and Mileidy how to register weekly attendance and offering.

Food

In this edition, I am featuring Chilean food! First you have to know, Chileans show their love through food. One of the things that we Ecuadorians missed while at the conference was soup. It was cold at night, and we were all craving warmth. Several at the Lautaro church are raising money for their mission trip to Ecuador. One night they made cazuela stew (beef or chicken broth with meat, pumpkin, green beans, carrots, green pepper, potatoes, onion and corn) as a fundraiser. I was so happy, I almost cried, but that would have watered down my soup.

Cazuela stew with hallulla bread

Summer in Chile is when they harvest “porotos granados” (shelled cranberry beans). There are a couple popular dishes that I didn’t like as a child that I love now. One is “porotos con riendas” (beans with reins) which is beans with squash and spaghetti noodles (the reins). It happens to be the specialty of one of our host moms. Who were we to deny her the privilege of making us her signature dish? She even made rice for the Ecuadorians who are accustomed to eating rice at least at lunch and dinner regardless of what other carbs are served.

“Porotos con riendas” with a hamburger patty, rice and tomato salad with onion

And Cecilia just happened to be making “porotos granados con pilco” (shelled beans with cut corn) the day I stopped by. I was grinning the whole day.

Porotos granados and marraqueta bread

Rainy Season

Some people have asked me how much does it actually rain during rainy season. Well, I don’t keep a rain gauge, so I can’t give you measurements. However, it is enough to make the southern exposure sidewalks green.

Green sidewalks in Samborondón

And no matter how rain-proof you think your shelter is, water will get through. Just last week, we noticed an abstract cross themed watermark on the church ceiling.

Abstract cross art water stain on church ceiling

One Last Thing

At the church in Lautaro, I noticed this artwork on their bulletin board. I love what is depicted here. The Church washing the feet of and caring for a worry-worn world. I hope this inspires you as it did me. The world is in need of love, unconditional love. And we have it. Let’s not hoard it. Let’s Connect with God. Create community. And share compassion.

Artwork on Lautaro church bulletin board: the church washing the world’s feet

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