Today began very early for Mark and Jim as they had a meeting with several people from FACE and the president of the Ecuadorian Covenant Church (IPEE). They brought a proposal to begin a microfinancing program in Ecuador. This program is written by HOPE International, and helps people to build trust within the church and community through regular meetings that focus on a house of principles and Bible study as well as creating a savings program that can turn into a loan program. This is needed in Ecuador because banks charge people to save money in them, and then charge them 30% to withdraw from that savings. This program will help people to take control of their own finances, take out small loans and repay them at far lower interest rates than the banks charge. This was well received, and they were even happy to hear that a savings program of sorts has even been started at one church in the country. There are even plans to begin a savings program with the pastors so they will have something to retire on instead of having to get another job after they are done being pastors.
The rest of the team had breakfast at the hostel in Quito followed by a brief meeting with our Merge staff – and got to know our translators. We also had a third translator join us- those on the 2016 trip will remember Mary Gordon. After our meeting we packed up the bus for a day of tourism. We even found some tropical fruits to eat growing in the garden outside the hostel! Fresh figs and golden berries were shared by the team. We headed to the Basilica first. Most of the team decided to tour the entire building and climb all of the steps to the top. Sue and Sarah stayed back with Liz and enjoyed a cup of coffee.
The sunshine was beautiful, and it felt so wonderful to soak in its warmth. Mark, Jim and Richard joined us after a very great meeting with FACE and IPEE . Our group walked a number of blocks (all down hill) to the Old Town in Quito to the city square. We walked past the presidential palace, and on down the “Street of Seven Churches.” One of the churches on this street is called the “golden church.” The entire inside of this church is covered in gold. It was a very old church, and according to our tour guide it originally had 20 tons of gold in it. Over the centuries (at one point the church was abandoned) the gold was stripped from the church. It has been re-done, however it has been done in gold leaf so there isn’t nearly as much gold in it anymore.
We walked next to a shopping center and ate at a restaurant there. The food was the kind of food that typical Ecuadorians eat, and we all agreed it was delicious. Some even ate blood sausage! We were all very touched after we left the tables. We were waiting for several people to finish in the “banyo” and observed a young man come to our table with a plastic bag and clear the left-over food from our plates into the bag, and take it out the door. What a blessing that we didn’t know what to do with our leftovers since we couldn’t see any garbage cans around and left it on our tables.
We boarded the bus next and headed to Mitad del Mundo (The Center of the Earth) about an hour away from Quito. Mitad del Mundo is an Ecuadorian cultural center built right on the equator. We were shown many different tribal artifacts…shrunken heads, several different style huts, traditional burial customs, and even a dancer doing a traditional rain dance. We also got to experience the unique gravitational effects of the equator like balancing an egg on a nail head, water going down the drain in different directions depending on which side of the line it was on, difficulty walking a straight line, and several others.
Another ride on the bus brought us to our home for the next 11 days at Pastor Jose’s hostel called Hotel de Olivos. After room assignments (and a little bit of pouting by Jim that he didn’t’ get his same room), we were served a delicious dinner cooked by his wife Magdelina. Those of you who have gone on past trips may be jealous to find out that we will have a hot meal cooked for us 3 times a day! Tonight we had chicken and vegetables, rice, soup and large slices of papaya for dessert. We practiced our song for church tomorrow and headed to bed. Some people even took cold showers before bed… some waited for morning with the hope of warm water.