Thursday, December 18, 2008

making the choice to live...

Could I ever have dreamed years ago that God would have me in the place that I am today? I do not mean physical location - although being in Ecuador thus far has been quite the experience - but rather, the place in which I find my very heart beating. How can I explain it? I am in Guayaquil, Ecuador... my body scorched from the Montanita sun, my legs bitten from the mosquitos that enter through the window of my room, surrounded by unknown faces, confronted by so many who have never experienced God in the way He would desire them to... and yet even so, I find myself smiling. Yes, a genuine smile; one that I cannot explain with mere words. It is as if in the midst of all the unknown and the chaos, God is causing my heart to smile. Have you ever felt that way, as if the world around you was crashing down, yet somewhere inside of you, it's as if you have a reason to feel peace and joy in the midst of it all?

This past week, Ashley and I went to Montañita, known to be one of the most multicultural "hotspot" beaches in Ecuador. People come from all over the world to experience the waves, the night life, and the mezcla of cultures that can be found in this unique place. I'm not quite sure Ashley and I knew what we were getting ourselves into when we decided to go to Montañita. Numerous people warned us of the "crazy lives" of the people who lived and visited this place, yet even so, we boarded a bus on Tuesday afternoon because we wanted to see for ourselves.

Oh, the precious joy of "seeing for ourselves." Though Montañita contained a little bit more than Ashley and I were prepared to handle, God so graciously allowed me to see this place through His eyes. Montañita is a "party" town where people do not come out until dark and do not go to sleep until morning. When they finally wake up the following day, they bum around the beach until it is time to do the same thing all over again. I found myself not desiring to run from this kind of environment, but rather to embrace and love these people with that which only Christ can give. I wanted so much to show them that they have a Father who can take care of them. Without a doubt, I am confident that God is going to raise someone to come to this place and courageously face the Montañita culture for the cause of Christ. It would be quite the adventure, but I know there is someone who will come for these people, for if they don't, they will surely perish.

Let me share a little bit about the kinds of people that we encountered in this place. Though crazy in nature, I was so drawn to the culture in this small town. In Montañita, we met numerous poor surfers who had come to make a living by designing and selling jewelry. We met a guy from Brazil, one whose dreadlocks and deep tan told us that he had been there a very long time. His friend had come from the jungles of Peru to live in Montañita; in his broken English he explained to us that he used to live with the monkeys and accompanied his story with the sounds that the "monos" make in the jungle in case we did not understand him. We met Juan, a guy who was traveling around the world from Uraguay and had decided to stop in Montañita with nothing but his display of handmade jewelry and a small backpack. Juan was quite the character and though he spoke very little English, he still managed to communicate to us that whichever piece of jewelry we picked up was "perfect" for us. He prided himself in his work, for it was all he had to cling to. If he did not wake up in the morning to make jewelry, then he simply would not survive. If he did not spend each day standing in the streets with his display of pieces in which no two were alike, he simply would not eat. If he did not spend his nights amidst the loud music and chaotic drunken crowds, he would not be able to live. What amazes me is that not once did I hear Juan complain, or even hint that he was angry about his circumstances. Juan just kept smiling... he kept selling... he stood outside for long hours, persevering like I believe many of us would not be willing to do. This poor, traveling surfer was seeking to find life in the midst of his very difficult and complex circumstances; yet he did not run from the difficulties, but rather embraced them with his whole heart, for he had no other choice.

Such is the mentality of the people I have encountered here in Ecuador thus far. People realize that they need to work hard for what they have, and instead of complaining about their circumstances, they get up and do what it takes to live. I am reminded of the indigenous Quichua woman that we pass every single day on our way to the bus stop. It never fails that as we turn the corner, there we can find her with her baby on her lap and her cart full of gum, fresh fruit that she slices for those who pass by, and many other traditional Ecuadorian snacks. We have seen her there at 9 AM and we have seen her there at 11PM. Why does she remain? Because she has no choice but to choose to do what it takes to live. Among her stands men and women who wake up each morning to sell lottery tickets in the streets, bottles of water, sunglasses, magazines, etc. I am reminded of Mami Patti, my house mother who selflessly works day and night around the house to ensure that her family is well taken care of. I am inspired by these precious faces more than I can explain.

How could I be so selfish and lazy to not see that we must make the choice to live and press on? Even more so, I am convicted of how often I complain about the "storms" that come my way. So often in my life, I wait for a handout, an easy way to move forward, or even a reason to press on. I wait for God to provide or to release me from the storm, yet forget that making the choice to truly LIVE is quite often the most difficult decision we must make. When our circumstances bog us down, we must choose God--we must choose to walk with Him--to rest in His promises--to rely on what He has said to us--to believe with our whole hearts that there is always a resurrection and the hope of new life. When the storms surround us, we cannot give up; we must trust in our hearts that we can smile amidst them with the hope that only Christ can give us. God has such a beautiful purpose and plan for our lives. He has such a unique way of using our circumstances to mold us and teach us how we are to live. When such challenges arise, they are not to harm us; they are simply God-given opportunities for us to rise and embrace what it means to truly live. If we are children of God, our hope is not in what we see, but rather in what we cannot see.

I pray that like those I have encountered, God would give me the strength to choose life in the midst of the pain and chaos. Pray for these people... for those in Montañita, for those in our neighborhood in Guayaquil, and even for those in YOUR neighborhood who you may or may not notice are suffering, yet persevering with such gentle and quiet strength. O, how sweet to trust in Jesus... He never fails, no matter how heavy the storm. May we press on in hope...

Tonight, we head to Quito on an overnight bus. In the morning, we will wake up one step closer to "la mitad del mundo," the middle of the world! :)

"Therefore, we do not lose heart; even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." 1 Corinthians 4:16-18.

Hasta pronto,