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Arbolito Update

It seems like yesterday that the six of us were leaving the sweltering summer heat of our orientation in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and now, almost six months later, about to start the Ecuadorian winter, it’s even hotter! Fortunately we have been pretty busy the past couple months which has kept our minds off the temperatures. Besides the constant high temps, every day here is different; some are more challenging than others and some are filled with laughter. Some days have us missing home more than others, and some have us feeling like we’ve never been more at home, but every day since we’ve stepped off the plane has been another wonderful opportunity to grow, to love, to be loved, and to witness the face of Christ in our neighbors, in each other, and in ourselves.

Perhaps the biggest news to report is that we recently wrapped up our second successful retreat group. The first, if you’re unaware, came to us from the University of Santa Clara early in September, and the second, from Saint Pope John Paul II High School, joined us over Thanksgiving. Though we’ve only been here as volunteers for what is essentially a semester in school terms, we have thoroughly enjoyed watching the retreatants see our worlds and the communities and homes we have been welcomed into with fresh eyes. The lasting impressions on high school students made by our neighbors or by the people we work with every day and the love that they freely share remind us that we’re not here to “do” anything, but rather to simply “be”.

When we’re not wrangling around teenagers, we try to make a point to get involved in our community. In what could be our biggest success so far, we brought over 60 kids from the after-school programs where we all work to our retreatant house next door for a fun, but terrifying Casa de Terror. Included were games and prizes for the kids, an arts and crafts station, a photo booth, and the main event – an over-the-top haunted house complete with scary sound effects, cobwebs and decorations, and a few of our Ecuadorian friends dressed up as zombies! Some of the kids wouldn’t even go inside it was so scary. On other weekends we have gone hiking on a trail called ‘Siete Cascadas’ (Seven Waterfalls), we went to a mass given by the Bishop of Guayaquil, and we also had our three-month retreat in the beautiful beach-town of Ballenitas not too long ago which was a fantastic opportunity to take the time to relax and reflect on the things we’ve seen, the people we’ve met, and the times where God has been most present in our lives, guiding and transforming us through this year.

Lastly, our worksites, the places where we spend the most time, have all been very rewarding and maybe where we learn the most. Allie and Amelia recently showed off their students from the Guardaria and the songs and dances they had been working on for weeks at the Olympiada for the bilingual school, Nuevo Mundo. Amy and Cole finished writing and creating the annual newsletter for Damien House recently. And Anthony and Rachel have just started a group for senior citizens in the neighborhood of Una Sola Fuerza. It is not only thanks to all of the people that we see every day that has made this experience thus far a transformative one, it’s thanks to the support we have back home that allows us to fully immerse ourselves into the visits with our neighbors, into discovering what it means to live in a Christian-learning community, and to delve deeper into our personal relationships with God and what it means to be the Rostro de Cristo. Thank you for taking the time to catch up on our lives, and please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. You will be in ours.