This past weekend was possibly the highlight of my experience in Ecuador. It was not quite as exciting as a trip to the Galapagos or the Amazon rainforest, but it was definitely an encouraging and beautiful opportunity.

Almost three years ago, I came to Ecuador for the first time with my high school youth group to help out with a summer Bible camp in Tena. We stayed at a small jungle camp for the first few days and then made our way to the main location of the ministry – Camp Chacauco in Patate, Ecuador. Those few days in Ecuador and the amazing camp staff stole my heart in just a short time, and I believe they are very much responsible for my decision to return to this country for a full semester of study abroad.

This past weekend, I was given the incredible blessing to return to Camp Chacauco and it captured my heart once again.

One of my friends from the BCA program accompanied me on the trip as we left Quito saturday morning. After a 3-hour bus ride, we made our way to Pelileo, where a few members of the camp staff picked us up. Just a short drive later, I was standing back at the beautiful camp – complete with breathtaking views of the Tungurahua volcano.

Brother Steve, the missionary who came to Ecuador over 20 years ago and built the camp, gave us a tour of Chacauco as he explained all the blessings and challenges that occurred since my visit three years ago. We walked through all the camp dormitories, saw the framework being constructed for the new Seminary building (absolutely amazing), and finally made our way to the cabins before heading to dinner.

Since there was a children’s retreat that weekend, we got to spend a few minutes playing with the kids as well. Dinner was truly such a surprise; I was hoping to see some of the same staff and old friends from before, but I did not expect to spend the evening eating with them and hearing all their wonderful stories. They were so hospitable and treated us as family the entire weekend, and I was honestly overwhelmed by their kindness.

On Sunday morning, Brother Steve gave us a special opportunity to accompany him to a few churches in the area. At the first stop, we attended Sunday School at a small church just outside Patate. The pastor was Chilean, so I couldn’t catch all the meaning due to his accent but I felt like I generally understood the message.

Our second destination, however, was truly an unforgettable experience. Steve and two other sweet members of the staff took us about an hour outside the town to a tiny indigenous community called Apatug. Prior to the 1990s, this small community was entirely Catholic (more of a political title than a faith commitment) and survived solely on agricultural products.

In 1988, however, 11 members of the community decided to follow Christ after hearing the gospel preached in a nearby town. The religious tension between the new evangelicals and the traditionally Catholic leaders grew so hostile that the new Christians were removed from the community’s co-ops and eventually humiliated publicly in order to denounce their belief. When the group refused to denounce Christ, they were further persecuted with beatings and torture.

Over time, the group continued to grow despite persecution and slowly regained standing in the community as children of the local leaders began to follow Christ and therefore influence their entire family. Today, the Christian church has over 200 members and works closely with Steve at Camp Chacauco to provide worship services and Bible lessons to anyone willing to attend.

Brother Steve was serving as a guest pastor at the church last Sunday, so we were able to accompany him to the community for the church service. The experience was phenomenal. We watched as members of the church performed traditional dances in indigenous dress and then listened as they sang hymns and worshiped in Kichwa (the indigenous language of Ecuador). Several members of the congregation came up to welcome us and offer big smiles despite the language barrier – most older members of the community only speak Kichwa, not Spanish. The whole service was so centered on Christ and the community’s unceasing faith; I couldn’t help but be humbled simply by standing among them.

After church, we received a short tour around the town (including lots of pig sightings) and finally made our way back towards Ambato to catch a bus home to Quito. Along the way, we tried some of Saucedo’s famous ice cream and saw more beautiful scenery. It was an amazing weekend with old friends and lots of new encouragement, prayer, and worship. I could not ask for a better way to spend one of my final weeks in Ecuador. It’s hard to believe that I will be back in the USA in only 2.5 more weeks!