Learning and Fellowship Tour 2017

Twelve friends from Waterford Mennonite Church (Goshen, Indiana) spent two weeks with our family in March.  We were joined during the first part of the trip by three Journey International volunteers as well as Luis Tapia, former pastor of Quito Mennonite Church.  The tour featured many opportunities to learn about rain forest cultures and the development of indigenous churches in Eastern Ecuador.  We also had a chance to fellowship and worship with believers from a variety of cultures and language groups:  Kichwa, Shuar, Cofan and Spanish.

Our knowledge of the richness and diversity of the Christian Church — Christ’s body — expanded greatly.  And our trust in God for protection and guidance during this adventure helped to strengthen our faith in new ways.  Getting outside your comfort zone can be a good thing!

Here are some of the photos taken by our family …

Back in the Forest

Gracias a Dios — thanks be to God — we have returned to Ecuador for our third year of two-way mission! 

In early December, our plans to travel from Goshen to Quito at year’s end were thwarted by unexpected news:  Jerrell was diagnosed with melanoma on his right ear.  People began praying for us within minutes, and with the help of a skilled surgeon the lesion was removed while the cancer was still in an early stage.  No further treatment was necessary, and our family flew south on February 1.

After spending several days with members of Mennonite Mission Network team and the leaders of Quito Mennonite Church in the nation’s capital, we loaded our four-wheel drive and traveled east over the Andes, descending to our home base in rain forest town of Tena.  What a joy to be back at work among our friends and neighbors … here are some photos from the first few days.

Year Two Begins

We have arrived in the rain forest and are beginning the southern phase of our two-way mission: January-June in Ecuador and July-December in the United States. While here in the Global South we will work with the indigenous people living around us, accompanying the leaders of local churches while focusing on the themes of creation care, economic justice and the rights of women and children. When we return north this summer we’ll share what we’ve learned with our sisters and brothers in the Global North.

Year two is different than year one in many ways. We already have friends and neighbors and a cozy home to share. We know where things are and can imagine what our routine might be like. We also realize, of course, to expect the unexpected … and to open ourselves to new opportunities as we prepare ourselves to seek God’s guidance and timing.

Here are some photos from our first weekend.


New Ground

DSCN2123We have had wonderful experiences and met many gifted people since arriving in Ecuador — getting our bearings when we first arrived in the rain forest town of Shell, then applying for visas and learning to know our sisters and brothers at the Quito Mennonite Church and MCC Refugee Project in the capital city, and finally relocating to our new home in the Tena area.

The photos below provide a glimpse of where we have been and with whom we have worked over the past two months.


Sometimes we wake up expecting something to happen — then we discover that our expectations were wrong.  But it’s all good, and sometimes the surprise can be better than the original plan.

Such was the case on our first Sunday in Ecuador. Two years ago we met Clever and Sophia, leaders of La Iglesia Indigena Unida Filipenses (the Philippians United Indigenous Church). Clever is native Shuar; his wife Sophia is native Kichwa. Their hope is to unite the indigenous church, bringing together rainforest tribes that have traditionally been divided by geography, language and culture. More recently, native peoples have even been divided by missions, with different mission agencies dividing Ecuador into smaller regions in order to focus their efforts at evangelization. Pastor Clever and Sophia see beyond this – they envision an indigenous church where there are no boundaries, where all are united as sisters and brothers in Christ.


On Sunday morning we showed up at their church, ready to surprise Sophia, Clever and their two children, Jabes and Liz. Instead, we were the ones who were surprised – the doors were shut and the lights turned off.  We headed back into the rain and wandered the streets of Shell looking for another church.  We drove around a few minutes until we came across a woman walking with a Bible in hand.  We asked where she and her friends were going and she said she’d show us if we gave them a ride.  We piled everyone into the car and headed to Puyo, a small city about 15 minutes down the road.  We parked along a street downtown and she led us up a staircase into what she and others referred to as the Waorani Church.

After the service we met a missionary family, Taylor, Alisa and their five children, who graciously invited us for dinner at their home.   We enjoyed the chance to connect and compare notes with them.  Then we all headed out to the soccer field for a co-ed game with church members and neighborhood children.

DSCN0212Two days later we finally met up with Clever and Sophia.  They were surprised to see us at their doorstep and dropped what they were doing to update us on events since our last visit in 2013.  We then hopped in the car and drove up to a newly-settled area at the edge of town where the couple has founded a sister church.  The area is populated with indigenous people who have recently migrated here from the rainforest.  They speak Kichwa, Shuar and Waorani.  The church is open-air, a small wooden shelter with mountains in the background where people sit in a circle to worship.

Before saying goodbye, Sophia invited us to help with her Friday afternoon children’s program and Clever suggested we join them for worship next Sunday.  We are so grateful to make the connection and trust that our presence will encourage them as they seek ways to follow Christ as indigenous believers.


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We’re in Ecuador!

We are in God’s hands.

After two days of travel we arrived in the rain forest at the base of the Andes Mountains. We find ourselves just south of the equator that separates the northern and southern hemispheres.

It’s been raining all night. We have no schedule, no timetable, just a sense that God is calling us to this place. We are on a mission — a mission of presence, a mission of accompaniment, a two-way mission where we hope to teach and learn from our indigenous sisters and brothers.

We marvel at the beauty around us and rely on the help we have received from both Ecuadorian  locals and North American missionaries.  And we feel the support of our friends and family on the other side of the equator who have offered us their encouragement, support and prayers.

Blessings to all as we enter this New Year together!



View of the Chicago skyline on our drive from Goshen to the airport


Checking in at the airport

Checking in at the airport. Jan Oostland drove us to the airport early on New Year’s Day and took this photo as we bid farewell




We spend our first night at FEINE, the Council of Evangelical Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Ecuador




We were greeted by sunshine….


… flowers…




more flowers



… and friendly people. This is Rosa, caretaker of FEINE headquarters, whom Jane befriended soon after we arrived



Talking with Rosa as we prepare to depart for the rain forest



Caleb Yoder, an international service worker with Mennonite Mission Network, helps us pack the mission vehicle



We pack the vehicle for the six hour drive to the Pastaza region


Rafael, Rosa’s wife, looks on as we tie our bags on top


View from the highway of the Andes


We passed many towns and cities along the way


First glimpse of the town of Shell


A creek-side park in Shell


The countryside near Shell


Our family — from left: Jerrell, Jordan, Sierra, Jane, Naomi and Teresa


We wonder…

We continue to ask ourselves the question, “Is God calling our family to work among indigenous people in South America?”

We often wonder about the connection between the northern and the southern parts of the American continent. We wonder if we could be part of a north-south mission to: (1) Accompany indigenous brothers and sisters in the South as they discover God’s presence in their lives, helping uncover the understandings gained through God’s general revelation and sharing stories based on scripture in a mutual search for fresh interpretations and contextualized applications of Christ’s special revelation; and (2) Revitalize the spiritual quest of Christians in the North by sharing stories rooted in the perspectives of the women, men and children of the South. We believe that indigenous peoples living in the South offer a unique image of God which, if shared openly in the North, could enrich the faith of Christians in both continents.


Stories are a powerful means of communicating ideas, in particular among people steeped in the oral tradition. We have recently begun adapting the Godly Play method of recounting Biblical narratives for use in a cross-cultural context. Godly Play assumes that people already have some experience of the mystery of the presence of God in their lives, but acknowledges that we often lack the language, permission or understanding to express and enjoy God’s creative presence. People are invited into parables, contemplative silence, sacred stories and liturgical actions to discover God, one another and the sacredness within that also permeates the world around us. It supports, challenges, nourishes and guides people in their spiritual quest.

The Godly Play model was originally developed for children. Over the past two years Jane has adapted it for use with college students during weekly gatherings in our Lima home as well as indigenous people on visits to communities in the distant provinces of Peru. These include Tampe, a small Awajun (Aguaruna) village in the Amazonian region and Colquemarca, a Quechua-speaking town in the Andean highlands. The stories were told in Spanish and translated into the native indigenous languages by locals. The wondering questions which followed gave those in attendance a chance to reflect and share their own interpretations of the stories. We were encouraged when church leaders remarked afterwards that the telling of the stories and the opportunity for people to wonder together connected particularly well with the indigenous participants, communicating on a heart level in a unique and profound way.

Story telling is a powerful tool in a North American context as well, a culture steeped in the written word and the application of electronic communication technology. We wonder if applying the Godly play model to the telling of untold stories and Biblical insights from indigenous people in the South could help facilitate a revitalization of faith in the North. We believe the model’s simplicity, its focus on timeless stories and its engagement of different senses could offer profound shifts in thinking and foster spiritual development in in-person church settings.

Further, we wonder if we could disseminate the indigenous stories and insights more broadly to members of our highly-literate, high-tech culture by writing original stories and posting blog entries in English for exposure to a wider audience. We have written a blog about our family’s and students’ experiences in Peru for Goshen College for several years. Descriptions of our visits to Tampe and Colquemarca referenced above can be found by clicking on these links: (http://www.goshen.edu/peru/2012/09/05/renewal/)

On our most recent visit to Ecuador Jerrell wrote a story about a fictional missionary family for our daughter, Naomi, that made him wonder whether other children in the US might benefit from hearing stories set in the South. We would hope that the telling of their stories would validate the experiences and insights of people in the South while both challenging and bringing encouragement to those in the North as together we hear God’s voice more clearly. We imagine ourselves being facilitators, telling the untold stories of the indigenous of the South, discovering what their stories mean for those of us living in the North and raising consciousness within our North American Mennonite faith community.

During a visit to the home of MMN workers César Moya and Patricia Urueña in Quito in August 2012, we discussed their development of Biblical, Theological and Pastoral training modules written with and for indigenous church leaders and published as 12 Cartillas de Formacion Biblica, Teologica y Pastoral by FEINE. We wondered whether our family is called to work with indigenous peoples in this capacity in the Ecuadorian rain forest. At a subsequent meeting with FEINE leadership at their Quito headquarters, we were presented with a proposal to utilize the modules to help run workshops to train church leaders, assist in the formation of new workshop facilitators and develop new booklets based on other themes. The proposal also included accompaniment work in the areas of community economic development and the formation of women leaders. We have translated the original proposal into English, entitled “FEINE Proposal.” We also followed up on FEINE’s suggestion to contact Clever Pachén, an indigenous pastor living in Shell, and heard about his current work with native youth and his vision for educating the next generation of leaders in what he termed the “whole gospel” – economic, political and spiritual dimensions of Christian formation.

We consider the Biblical, theological and pastoral training work proposed by FEINE, the vision for indigenous youth development proposed by Pastor Pachén and the story telling model we have outlined above as complimentary and integral. All three pieces could fit together into a cohesive mission. We wonder whether God is calling us to this mission.