** Peter and I went on a Sponsor Tour to Ecuador with Compassion International at the end of August.  You can catch up on all my posts here.

It was in August, in Ecuador, that I found myself learning how to plant cocoa beans.

We were near the equator, in the region of Esmeraldas.  We had driven for two hours in a bus where the driver alternated the brakes and accelerator with impressive rhythm that had most of us swallowing hard with every curve.  It was when our faces couldn’t turn much greener that we pulled up to line of children, waiting for us with their homemade flags and bigger smiles.

The task of the day was to visit some homes, to better understand the children that Compassion International supports.  Our group headed out to a family to help them plant cocoa beans.

Did I mention that this region has no roads?  Homes were only accessible by boat.

When I saw the long canoes, loaded down with plastic chairs coming up the river, I had one of those moments.  You know, the ones where you feel like you’re watching yourself on a movie?

I took a deep breath and off we went.  Periodically we would meet another boat coming toward us, causing our driver to slow down.  As the water rushed over our feet I looked back to see him scooping up the water and bailing it out of the boat while he steered.  I wasn’t scared, necessarily, but I may have been a little concerned.

After about 20 minutes, the engine slowed and we pulled up to a small pier, climbed the ladder and were met by a quiet family.  My heart leapt to my throat and I tried my hardest not to let my eyes water while I took in the scene before me.

The Mama, she was braiding her daughter’s hair, stopping to pick out the lice.  “How many children do you have?”  I asked in an effort to make small talk.  Her eyes met mine with a questioning look.   Finally she said she was having a hard time remembering.

 . . . .. . . . . . .
I’ve been home now for a few months.  The season has changed from hot and balmy to cold and rainy. And yet, in my heart, I am still processing what I saw for that one short week.

I’ve scrolled through the blogs and the websites, and I’ve seen the pictures just like the ones I’m posting.  But experiencing just one short afternoon with these people– smelling the smells and taking everything in with my own eyes has done something to my heart that could never happen if I were reading someone else’s words or looking at someone else’s pictures.

When Poverty has a name, a face, and you look into her eyes, it twists your heart right up.  Suddenly it’s not simply something that you give money to.  The ache becomes bigger than your heart as you realize that this THIS is what Christ as talking about when He said,

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;  ensure justice for those being crushed.  
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”
Proverbs 31:8-9

 . . . . . . .

After a tour of their home, we set out to work.  Jorge took us through the jungle and we came to a small clearing where he was planting the cocoa beans.  He took his (huge) machete and sliced open the fruit, revealing rows of seeds.  Our job was to take the slimy membrane off the seed, dig a small hole, and plop the seed in the ground.

Maybe our real job that day was to provide a laugh to Jorge?  We fumbled all over ourselves, while he effortlessly did his work.   It really was comical.

All of a sudden, I heard something crashing just beyond the trees . . . I instantly thought of any number of predators/drug lords/snakes that could be coming to capture me.  Instead, a wild horse ran through the clearing and Jorge barely looked up.  I couldn’t decide if I was relieved or disappointed.

After a few hours, we had put a good dent in the planting and we heard our boat coming in the distance.  I prayed for balance as I gingerly stepped around the plastic chairs and was a bit more aware of the water already pooling around my feet.  We took off, only to slow down a few minutes later.  I saw some kids waving from the shore.  They were part of the Compassion Project and needed a ride to the church for our celebration.

What did we do?  We picked them up, of course.

It happened again.

And again.

Ten or so kids later and our driver was really bailing that boat out.

We got back to the town, the Americans carefully stepping out of the boat while the locals hopped out without a thought.  We spent the rest of the afternoon serving the children a meal, singing and dancing together and just having a huge party.

But the day has replayed in my mind many, many times since then.  I’ll have to tell you why later, though.  This post is long and my baby is calling me from her bed.  The big kids are due home soon and when they walk in the door, there is usually much emotion and loudness.  A friend is coming over who has some big stuff going on in life and I pray I’ll have the right words to say.

 And maybe the reason that day near the equator is so poignant to me has something to do with the ones that will walk through my door in these next hours .  . .