Man, to think that I was in Ecuador for 11 days and now I'm back at home is pretty surreal to me. I remember that during our time there, it seemed like we were there forever but as we were leaving, we couldn't believe how quickly our trip had come and gone. It was without a doubt filled with so many blessings.
So before I say any more, here is the testimony that I presented to my congregation back at Harvest.
I wanted to start from the feelings and thoughts that ran through my mind as I came back from Ecuador after last year's trip. As you can see from my testimony, I suffered from immense feelings of guilt but for the sake of the congregation I filtered a lot of my true feelings of guilt but I figured this would be a place for me to be a little more open and honest with the feelings that I experienced. I think it is pretty clear that I endured all seven stages of grief in ways that I did not even recognize.
For those who don’t already know, my name is Isaac Lee and I will be a freshman at the University of Florida majoring in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology (in other words, physical therapy) and I have been to Ecuador for the past three summers.For those who are joining us for the first time today, last year, one of our team members and dear brothers, Joshua Tico Kim, was called home to be with the Lord through what some may call, a series of unfortunate events while on the mission field in Ecuador. For the past year, I suffered from immense feelings of guilt; I sat there thinking to myself: Yeaseong jumped in in a heartbeat. Our translator, whom we had known for 5 days, jumped in to risk his life to try and save Tico, and yet I sat there watching everything happen, since others said not to go in. However, I thought that if I was really that “courageous,” I should have jumped in regardless of what anyone else told me. I sat there hating myself for not doing more. I also felt guilty for not treating Tico the way I should have when he was here on earth. I sat there wondering to myself, how was I supposed to look at Tico’s brother, my best friend, with a straight face, feeling like I could have done more to save his brother.These feelings carried over into this year’s trip as we went back to visit the river where Tico was called home to be with OUR Father. I sat there beating myself up until words of encouragement hit home from both Tico’s mom and Pastor DL. Pastor DL was telling me how it was unfair for me to sit here and beat myself up because God doesn’t hold it against me, Harvest doesn’t hold it against me, Tico’s family doesn’t hold it against me, and most of all, Tico doesn’t hold it against me. Most of all, the words of Tico’s mom really helped me let go of a lot of this guilt. At the river, where her own son was called home to be with the Lord, she told us, “no more crying, no more pain, my son is happy and spending time with the Lord. I don’t want you guys to be sad anymore because I’m not sad and neither is KJ (Tico’s dad). Don’t be sad because Tico’s life is something to be happy about not sad, and most of all, because of my one son who went home to be with the Lord, I have gained many more sons and daughters.”As I went back to Ecuador this year, I found myself in a place of ambivalence. I was happy to be back and wanted to continue the work there, but at the same time felt undeserving because I wasn’t as spiritually prepared nor was my life radically different from last year.With that said, I came to this conclusion. While we may have not saved hundreds of lives or built an entire church in Ecuador we could clearly say that there is at least one reason why we were there. Humanly speaking, we can say WE built the church, we can say WE developed a relationship with the Ecuadorians, we can say WE threw the wedding, we can say WE built the goat farm, we can say WE painted the church in Quito, we can say we did all of that but there is one thing that without a doubt God ordained to be.Last summer was supposed to be our last trip to Ecuador since our original missionary was no longer in Ecuador, and we wanted to serve in countries where we had missionaries. However, God had other plans. There is a reason as to why we were connected to Yonchu Song in 2009, there’s a reason as to why we were then connected with Chris and Jenny Hoskins in 2010, there’s a reason as to why it was Chris and Jenny who experienced last year’s occurrences with us, there’s a reason as to why it was our “last year” that Tico was called to go to Ecuador, and there’s a reason as to why Tico was called home to be with the Lord and if nothing else we’ve been doing in Ecuador was for this one reason, that one reason that God had planned for us to be Ecuador this past summer would be for our brother Roberto that Pastor DL talked about last week.When we first arrived at the nursing home in Quito, Roberto did not do much. He did not smile, he did not lift his head up, he did not do anything. Roberto was hopeless. Roberto was depressed and hadn’t smiled in years. His family never came to visit him and from my understanding, Roberto’s depression got to the point where he even tried to commit suicide twice since his arrival at the nursing home.But there is a reason as to why Roberto’s attempts at suicide didn’t work. There is a reason as to why Roberto was placed in THAT specific nursing home. There is a reason as to why God wanted us in Ecuador for 11 days this year. God did not let Roberto’s attempts at suicide work and God called Tico home last year so that THIS YEAR, we would welcome Roberto into the family of Christ.But it wasn’t just Roberto. God had plans for our bus driver Santiago as well. He was our driver who spent a whole week with us. Our driver who, at the beginning of the week never left the bus as we did ministry but at the end of our time, he was sitting with us during the wedding, during the church services we held, and at the end of our time with him, he came to know the Lord as he said to us, “I promise to read this bible everyday because I want to see and experience the love and joy that fill your guys’ hearts and I want to know what it is like to live a life for a cause greater than my own.” If Roberto was not the only reason why we were called back to Ecuador, then Santiago was!We could have brought all of Harvest to Ecuador and for Roberto and Santiago, it would have been worth it. They were the lost sheep that God was pursuing. And there were many more in Lumbaqui, Sinangue and Cabeno. Through all of this, we are reminded that the angels and God Himself rejoices more when one person comes to know the glory of the risen Lord than for 99 who don't need a Savior.God has been and is doing so many things in the country of Ecuador and I am constantly being reminded of God’s sovereignty and grace over my life and the people we encounter. Ecuador will always have a place in my heart. So I end with this. For those of you who are on the fence about going to Ecuador, consider making a commitment now to go in the future. Just like everyone else, I had my list of reasons why not to go. It’s expensive, but I remembered that it was God who blessed me with the job and money I have. It’s not comfortable, but I remembered that it wasn’t comfortable for Christ to be flogged, spit upon, and nailed to a cross. It was hard to take time off, but I realize that bringing a non-believer to know the love of Christ and spend eternity with Him was worth more than staying here and doing whatever I could be doing here. I thought it’s too hot, before realizing that I live in Florida. I realized that there’s really no excuse as to why I couldn’t go. If God wants me there, who am I to say otherwise? God wanted Tico there and if Tico had rejected God’s calling, life would be so much different for Roberto and Santiago.So as people urged me in the past, I urge you to go! I can promise you that this is quite arguably one of the best trips you could ever go on.
While some may confuse/combine this stage with denial as well, in an instance like this, there was no denying what had happened. There was no way we could deny that Tico had drowned nor could we deny the fact that we lost someone we loved. I sat there shocked and in disbelief of what was going on. I sat there and couldn't believe that the next morning, I was packing my back pack and prepping myself for a search and rescue mission to find my dear brother who was supposed to return home with me. For me though, even as I returned home, I could not believe we had actually returned home with one less member from our team. I sat there frustrated because I would get mad at myself for not wanting to cry or feeling extremely upset because for me, I still could not believe Tico had gone home to be with the Lord.
So from the start, I felt extremely guilty for not jumping in to help save Tico. I sat there and watched him struggle and eventually drift away and under the water. I sat there and here at home beating myself up for not doing more. Even when Pastor DL would say to me, "Isaac, you have nothing to feel guilty for. No body here holds anything against you and I have never been more proud to know you, to be friends with you, to call myself your friend, your pastor, your team mate, but most of all, your brother in Christ," it would never be enough to alleviate these feelings of guilt.
As I thought more, I found more reasons to feel guilty. I felt guilty for not treating Tico the way I should have when he was here on earth. I felt guilty and did not know how to look at my best friend, Tico's own brother, with a straight face knowing I did not do everything I could have to save his brother. I felt like it should have been me who had drowned in the river because while Tico had passed away on a Thursday and the for the whole entire day before, Wednesday, I was stuck back at the motel because I was sick and did not have the strength to work for the entire day. In a lot of ways, I felt like I should have drowned because Tico had done more ministry and work in the country of Ecuador that I did.
I also felt guilty because when Pastor DL would ask who wanted to share their testimony, I was the first person to say no; however, Tico volunteered multiple times and on the day he went home to be with the Lord, he was supposed to share his testimony by which on three different occasions, prior to his passing, he asked Pastor DL if he would still be sharing to ensure that he still had the opportunity to share the gospel through his own life experiences.
In fact, the guilt began to overwhelm me so much that at times, I sat there at home wishing I had swapped places with Tico. I had wished I was the one who drowned in the river, August 4, 2011. I wished this because I sat at home looking at my life and what my life was like, it was the opposite of what I had hoped for. As I returned back home after last year's trip, I expected to be on this spiritual high where I was doing anything and everything for the glory of the risen Lord. However, my life was the exact opposite. While I was not out drinking or throwing my life away, I realized I was in a much more dangerous situation. I was pretending like everything was ok and going to church as if I were completely trusting in God with my life, but in reality, I was taking matters into my own hands. I guess you could say I was living the life of a fake Christian. My mindset was that I would rather Tico be alive instead me because while I'm sitting here pretending to live the Christian life, Tico would be alive and well doing the ministry that I was only dreaming about but not actually doing.
For a long time this was my mindset and the feelings of guilt that raced through my mind day in and day out.
The feelings of anger were slightly more subtle than some would think. It wasn't necessarily anger with God because in the depths of my heart and based up the textbook answers I was taught as a kid, I knew it was wrong for me to get angry at God. I mean, it was quite possibly the most unholy of all holies! So I sat here angry at myself for the same reasons above. I started hating myself and getting angry at myself for not jumping in after Tico. I was angry for not living a life radically transformed since Tico's death. I was angry at myself for getting angry at myself! While the moments and feelings of anger were not as apparent and obvious as some would think, they were, what would seem to me, like more subtle destructive moments of inner anger.
Unlike the stage of anger, the stage of depression was a little more evident. For those who have known/followed for me for quite some time, I wasn't exactly the skinniest guy in the world. I tell a lot of people I lost most of my weight from a parasite I caught while swimming in the river of Ecuador, but in reality, a lot of it was also from depression. I lost a total of 35lbs within one month. Now some may say it is only possible to move from one stage to another but in my case, I felt like I went through the depression stage while I was still hashing through my feelings of guilt. To explain, when I get upset or depressed, while some over eat to ease their depression, I tend to stop eating over all. While the parasite caused an overall weight loss of approximately 15lbs, the remaining 20lbs came from the depression of everything I had experienced. At one point, the depression escalated to the point where suicide even became an option I was willing to consider.
I imagined sitting at the place where I watched Tico disappear with the rip currents and thoughts of jumping in started to race through my mind. I figured that it would only be fair for me to feel and experience the fear and the strength of the river that Tico felt. I soon remembered though, that God kept me safe and here on earth for a reason. This would be the start of the next stage...
5) The Upward Turn & 6) Reconstruction
Feelings of depression slowly started to subside and I realized that I had the joy and pleasure of coming back home in Orlando and going back to Ecuador in 2012 to share Tico's story! God kept me alive to tell people of Tico's story. That Tico lived a life of urgency and love for God's sake. A life longing to share the gospel no matter what the cost. A life willing and wanting to die for the sake of the gospel. A life that I would envy every second of every day for. At this, I decided to start telling Tico's story and made a commitment in my heart, to Pastor DL, to the people of Ecuador, and to Tico to go back to Ecuador to tell and show that no traumatic event will keep me from sharing the gospel to those who need it. Nothing would keep me from showing God's love to those who have never felt it. Nothing would keep me from continuing the work Tico started last year, just days before his last breath.
So I have to admit that even though it seemed as if I were moving on from stage to stage, little bits of each stage still remained in my heart. As I went back to Ecuador, I found that I was still struggling with extreme feelings of guilt. As I, along with the team from last year, went back to the place where Tico was called home to be with the Lord, I couldn't help but pray, "God I'm so sorry. Tico, I'm SO sorry. I should have done more. I should have jumped in. I should been a better brother to you and better son to God. I'm so sorry. I should have died that day. I should have drowned. Tico, you should be here, not me." I sat there beating myself up once again and wanting to switch places with Tico again.
As stated in my testimony, I did not accept what God was placing into my heart until words of encouragement from both Pastor DL and Tico's mom hit home for me. God doesn't hold it against. Tico's family doesn't hold it against me, Harvest doesn't hold it against me, and most of all, Tico doesn't hold it against. I realized that the Devil was placing these feelings of guilt to cripple my faith and cripple my trust in God's sovereignty and I sat there telling myself, "if I keep this up, I am letting Satan win." With that said, I decided to come home and stop feeling guilty. Obviously there will always be that one part of me that feels guilty, but I made the decision to let it NOT cripple my faith and my worship to God. I have accepted that Tico was called home to be with the Lord so that his testimony would be used to share the gospel and I am here to share that testimony. God is in control!
So with that said, I am proud to say to you that I have returned from Ecuador and I can honestly say that it would not have been a better time for me to go! God spoke to me in ways I never imagined and used me in ways that I did not think of, but He used me. I am so proud to call myself a son of God and to call myself a friend and dear brother of Tico.
So without further adieu, I present to you, Harvest Summer Missions 2012 - Ecuador!
So as we left for Ecuador, I was super excited because I slowly started to fall in love with the team that I was with. We had so much diversity in our team and it was cool because I had the opportunity to hang out with people that I normally wouldn't hang out with. From dentists to kindergarten teachers to chief financial officers of corporations, we were such a diverse group of people that loved being together.
So we left Orlando on July 24, 2012 for Quito, Ecuador. We flew from Orlando to Miami, where we had a 1.5 hour layover and then off to Ecuador we went! Upon our arrival in Ecuador, we were greeted by...
The president of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Ecuador and very dear friend of mine and the team's, also one of the most humble men I know, Pastor Henry Burbano (top left). The trip coordinator Mandy Hjelm (top right), dear friend/translator/care-taker/everything else, Elizabeth Grothe (bottom left), translator Nathan Nelson (bottom right), and a few others who I failed to grab a photograph of. SORRY GUYS!
The next day, we headed out for Lumbaqui early in the morning and the one thing I love about the drive there would be the scenery. Now the following pictures are a big collage of awesome scenic pictures I photographed throughout the whole trip so I might as well let you see them all now while I'm talking about Ecuador wonderful landscape.
Now since we're talking about the scenery, let me do some explaining.
The top left picture is a picture of the mountains on the way to Lumbaqui. The house in the top row in the middle is just a cute little house I thought looked cool while the last picture on the top right is a photo from the middle of Sinangue and the main land. Now in the second row are photographs of Quito. Although we were in Ecuador for two weeks, we spent the first week in the Amazon and the second in Quito. In Quito, our team split up into host homes where group of 2-4 of us got to spend time and sleep in the homes of the leaders of the church we were working with. My family lived on a mountain where we could see all the way from East to West Quito. The third row has pictures of the mountains and city/airport visible from Pastor Henry's house (first two), and the last is a picture from the top of the church we were working with. The first picture on the bottom row is also from the church roof top and the last two are photographs from within Quito.
So once in Lumbaqui, our ministry focussed heavily on VBS, Tae-Kwon-Do, skits, and dental ministry.
This year we had the joy and pleasure of being accompanied by two dentists, a nurse, and student nurse. It was cool because for the first time, we had the chance to do something practical by doing basic cleaning, tooth extractions, temporary fillings, etc. It was amazing to see the skill, talent, and knowledge these guys had. Praise be to God for these gifted dentists eh???
The top row has photographs of our team performing a skit commonly known as "Bus Stop."
The second row shows pictures of our team doing some arts and crafts with the kids of Lumbaqui,
And the last row shows a bit of the Tae-Kwon-Do ministry we did. The tae-kwon-do ministry was cool because it got the kids to open up and get excited to see what we had to share and say and got them interested and their attention captured so we could talk with them and bond with them.
The next day, we headed to Sinangue which required us to cross two rivers by car, one by foot, and one more by boat. However, because we are such a large and spoiled group (haha), we were traveling in a charter bus that, well to our inconvenience, got stuck in the river. This then required us to sit for four hours trying to figure out how to PUSH the bus out of the river. By God's grace and lots of dedication, hard work, and strong men, the bus was free!
After crossing the river, we arrived in Sinangue and got right to our program. We didn't have much time in Sinangue as it was so we cut the greetings short and got straight to our program. Bus stop seems to be one of our most common skits because it's an easy, funny skit that gets the kids, and even adults, laughing and opens up their hearts quite a bit.
So after our time in Sinangue, we returned to Cabeno to help aid in the construction. Cabeno is the last city that Tico ministered to and with before his passing and is a village very dear to our heart.
Now if you guys may remember, moving cinderblocks is a form of ministry very dear to our hearts, especially mine. It takes me back to my first mission trip to Ecuador where we spent a bulk of our time there moving 1,000 cinderblocks along what some may call an impossible path. Getting to do this again brought back immense feelings of nostalgia and joy.
After our time in Cabeno, we headed back to Lumbaqui where we continued our dental missions and got to know some of the locals.
While the dentistry team continued their work in Lumbaqui, the rest of us headed to the local park to continue in our tae-kwon-do ministry with the kids there. However, as hinted by the bottom two pictures, there's always room for fun!
The next day, our team split up into three different teams. The first team went to what's called the Joshua Project, the second to help with construction and dentistry in Cabeno, and the third was last year's team that went back to the river to gain some closure and reflect after a years passing since Tico went home to be with the Lord.
Now let me explain the Joshua Project for a little bit. The Joshua Project is a practical way for us to put our resources to help the city of Lumbaqui. Joshua (Tico's) dad is a veterinarian and partnered up with a man from Guayaquil, Ecuador and together are working to start a goat farm in the city of Lumbaqui that would help stabilize their economy through simple things such as goat cheese, goat milk, etc. However, the goats need a home do they not? So the plan is to start with 5 female goats and 1 male goat by which after some months are meant to reproduce and hopefully because a huge farm. Now, the house that we were building was far beyond our expectations. We expected four corner posts and some chicken wire around the edges; however, Ecuador has anacondas. That's right folks, I said anacondas. Because the goats are at risk of being eaten alive by the anacondas in the amazon, we are building them a pen that is elevated roughly 4 feet in the air and when I say a goat pen, I mean a house. The construction and planning of the goat pen is unbelievable and we were needed to help transport the wooden posts and beams to the goat which was roughly 1/4 mile from the drop-off point to the destination.
While working long and hard, we got to eat..... GUINEA PIG!!!!!!!!!!!
While some may call me a monster, these guinea pigs were raised for the specific purpose to be eaten so I do not find that too horrific. Just like how we raise cows and chickens to be eaten, so are the guinea pigs and I will also admit, it tasted wonderful!
Later in the wwhere we were able to finish construction on the church, put up some lights, and hold the first worship service in the new church. Now the church is not completely finished but we helped get a majority of the infrastructure built!
The top left is what we started with, and the other three are pictures of the finished product!
As you can see in the top left picture, we were able to put up functioning lights, have a service, perform the body worship we had been practicing, and also perform an alter call where unbelievers would come to know Christ. The last picture is my favorite though. The last pictures shows a picture of four different languages praying and blessing the church. We had a prayer said in english, one is quechua, one in spanish, and the last in Korean. This reminds us that God has called people of all tribes, colors, and nations to unite as one body of believers to worship OUR risen Lord. Amen???
The next day was one of our last days in Cabeno and we decided to hold one more VBS session with the kids. This day, they learned more about Daniel and the Lion's Den.
As we ended the day, my good friend Kenny and I got the AWESOME opportunity to play with the neighborhood monkey. All I have to say is that monkeys are THE coolest animals EVER! At one point, we gave him a chocolate egg wrapped in foil and the monkey actually peeled off the foil and ate the chocolate egg. IT WAS AWESOME!!!! Besides the fact that it was disgustingly dirty, it was still cool!
The next day was a special day for us all. We had the amazing opportunity to host a wedding for the laocal pastor in Lumbaqui. This was an extremely important event because in that sort of culture, people don't really get married. They live together, have a family together, but never offically get married. With that said, the pastor wanted to get officially married so that they could be an example for the rest of the city. This is crucial because the pastor, Pastor Jose Mejia, holds much influence within the city of Lumbaqui and their marriage can be the pivot point for a God-centerred relationship throughout the city of Lumbaqui.
With that said, I am proud to announce that Isaac Jak Lee has photographed his FIRST wedding, in the amazon. Who would have thought?? All I can say is that I would not have wanted to photograph my first wedding any other way! Here they are!!!
Getting to partake in the setting up of the wedding along with the program of the wedding itself was a huge honor for us because it showed that the Ecuadorians were really starting to trust us that they would give us such an important task such as being in charge of their wedding.
We were able to do out body worship during the service (top row), sing "Tengo Hambre de Ti" during the reception (bottom left) and for the first time in history, perform a skit we like to call "Sin Chair" at a wedding reception as well!
Pastor DL was named the "Padrino" over this couple which basically means he is their guide and mentor for their marriage. A very important and honorable position!
AND SO, WITHOUT FURTHER ADIEU,
I PRESENT YOU LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,
MR. AND MRS. JOSE MEJIA!!!
As our time in the Amazon ended, we still had one more week in Ecuador. This year was the first year that we had spent two weeks in Ecuador but also the first year we decided to do some ministry in Quito.
On our way back to Quito, we stopped by a city called El Chaco which is Pastor Henry's hometown and we were able to worship at the church Pastor Henry was saved in.
We were planning on working with Pastor Henry's church, Iglesia Del Pacto Cristiana La Santiago. We were involved in numerous activities including VBS, visiting an orphanage, a nursing home, painting, etc.
Like I stated earlier, upon our arrival to Quito we split up into host homes. This meant that we would all split up and sleep in different home but come back together first thing in the morning. Every family was so ridiculously hospitable and it was amazing to see how they were so willing to give what little they had. Always waking up before us, going to bed after us, using their vacation hours to be with us, etc.
The first day we went to a local orphanage.
This hit me pretty hard. This wasn't just any ordinary orphanage, but an orphanage for orphans who have been abandoned by their parents due to some sort of disability. In Ecuador, disabled/handicapped individuals are looked down upon and since many parents don't have the finances, time, or effort to take care of the children, most of them drop the kids off and never see them again. One child in particular really hit home for me. His name was Juan and he was found in his backyard, chained to a multitude of cats, while being fed out of a doggy bowl. It wasn't until the neighbors spotted this and reported it to child services that he was then relocated here. Many of the children's stories are extremely sad but we remember that they are placed here and loved by individuals who's hearts break at the sight of injustice.
As always, we performed some basic skits and the gospel presentation.
This is a big collection of the different arts and crafts that the kids made.
The detail is amazing probably much better than I could ever do!
If only I had such creativity.
The next day, we got the chance to be entrusted with the task of painting the church. Later that night we were asked to lead worship at the worship service along with a skit and some body worship.
Later that night, the leaders of the church wanted to take us to downtown, historic Quito and my oh my was it gorgeous. The architecture was beautiful and the night was filled with fellowship and fun spent with the members of the church.
The next day, we headed out to a nursing in the valley of Ecuador and basically, this nursing home isn't like others here in the states. It's more of a hospice where the elderly are sent when family can't take care of them and they are to send their last years or so. Upon our arrival, we started with songs of worship, skits, the gospel presentation, a prayer of confession and acceptance, and ended the day praying for the elderly.
I wanted to dedicate a special portion to Roberto.
While I wasn't a HUGE part in his story, his story really hit home for me.
For further details on his story, please refer to my testimony above!
I'll save you all the trouble and boredom!
What I failed to mention was that everyday we were in Quito, we had the opportunity of helping out with their VBS. This was cool for me because I was actually able to teach some stuff with the spanish I learned in high school and the spanish I practiced at work.
And so, as I'm sure many of you are tired of reading, and I'm tired of writing, I'll just let you all finish with the last pictures I have. We had the chance to have a team photoshoot and take many pictures with the children from the church, all of whom are very dear to our hearts. Thanks for reading and come back again!!!
With much love,