Sept. 4, 2006

Church group travels to Ecuador

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Together 32 members from First Baptist Church of Cokato and Cornerstone Baptist Church of Litchfield went on a two-week mission trip to Ecuador, South America in July.

The small group of youth and adults went to help build a training center in La Bramadora for orphaned teenagers living on the streets of Ecuador.

The group did all the work by hand, including pouring the cement foundation, digging the footings and hauling rocks.

La Bramadora had been cut off of water by the government so the group had to bathe in the nearby river, Stahl said.

The town of 2,500 people had only one telephone, but this had been broken for two months.

The training center, an extension of the Alliance Church in La Bramadora, is to allow teenagers to get off the streets and off drugs and to receive some education and training for them to learn a trade, explained Steve Stahl, a youth pastor for First Baptist Church.

Driving down the streets, kids as young as 5 years old beg for work. They can be seen juggling and doing cartwheels at stoplights hoping for the passersby to give them money, Stahl said.

Ecuadorian boy finds God

Stahl told of Ricardo, a 16-year-old Ecuadorian boy, who had lost his father at the age of 6, and his mother abandoned him soon after. He had been living on the streets in the city and grew up earning money by doing street performances.

After fleeing from the city he found refuge at the Alliance Church in La Bramadora and will benefit from the training center.

Ricardo has now found Christianity at the center, but was without a Bible.

His pastor told him, “God will provide you with a Bible.”

The Minnesota group brought with them more than 200 Spanish Bibles and “had the privilege of answering his prayer,” Stahl said.

The group spent time building a kitchen and dormitory for the training camp and a soccer field to draw the kids into the camp, Stahl explained.

“This gives them an opportunity for a chance in life,” Stahl said.

“They have no way to get out without someone helping them,” he said.

Visit to women’s prison

Stahl’s wife, Marnie, along with two other women from the group were able to visit with a ministry working at an Ecuador women’s prison.

The three stood in line 45 minutes and had to give the guards their passports, Marnie explained.

“That was scary. . .handing over our passports not knowing if we would get them back,” she said.

There are 600 women in a prison that only holds 300 along with 300 children. In their culture, the women take care of the children even if they are in prison, Marnie explained.

The women have to fend for themselves by providing their own food, clothing, and even mattresses.

“They are given nothing,” she said.

Most of the women are detained for drug trafficking and sentenced to 8 to 10 years even if they hadn’t deliberately done anything, Marnie explained.

Women from all over the world are held there, including California, Belgium and Germany.

Because these women have to provide for themselves to stay alive, some earn a living by prostitution. Marnie explained how men would line up outside.

“It’s disgusting, but it’s the sad truth,” she said.

The women ministers in the prison help those prisoners who don’t have families within the country to provide them with their needs, Marnie explained.

The ministry has designed a work program for the women to make greeting cards to sell so they can make an “honorable living,” Marnie said.

With the money the prisoners make, the ministries buy the clothes and food for the prisoners who don’t have anyone, she explained.

Marnie is working with the ministry on a way to sell the cards in this community.

What affected Marnie the most during her prison visit was the worship service where they gather with the prisoners singing praise to God, she said.

“I never heard so much passion,” Marnie said.

“It was amazing they can still have joy in their hearts for the Lord even after all they’ve been through,” she said.

The ministry is working to start a pen pal program for the prisoners. Marnie told of Anja, a young German woman who had been in prison for two years.

“Her family gave up on her and stopped writing six months ago,” Marnie said. She believes the pen pal program could encourage them.

Marnie is working with the ministry to get the pen pal program coordinated by e-mail for anyone interested. A notice will be printed in the Enterprise when the program is in place.

Making a dirty living

During the mission trip, the group worked with people who made their living digging through garbage dumps.

They would sift through garbage collecting recyclables earning $5 to $10 a week per family, according to Stahl.

“The economics of this portion of Ecuador is not much different from the US. An equivalent would be an American family living off of $50 a week,” Stahl explained.

The group brought the workers food and helped with their small children at the daycare.

Extreme Relief, an organization designed to help the impoverished, began a daycare for the garbage workers’ children.

The conditions have “vastly improved,” in the last three months, Stahl said.

Before this, the children had been alongside their parents while they had been working in the dump.

This camp also provided the workers with safe work clothes like uniforms, boots and masks where before they were in their regular street clothes, Stahl explained.

The daycare has provided the children with clean clothes, a playground, and a weekly bath. The children also had to be deliced, he said.

“My heart was broken for the kids down there,” Stahl said.

“Everyone came away realizing how wealthy we really are,” Stahl said.

Lisa Rammel, a DC graduate, also went on the trip. What touched her the most was the connection that was made with the people of La Bramadora even with a language barrier, she said.

“They loved us and we loved them,” Rammel said.

The people showed that with the daily meal preparations. “Every meal was like Thanksgiving,” she said.

Rammel, like many who have done mission work, walked away with a “greater passion to serve God,” she said.

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