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A people-to-people mission; UCC volunteers travel to Ecuador

Volunteers from the United Church of Christ work side-by-side with local volunteers to finish a community center in Ecuador.

Twelve volunteers from the Northern Plains Conference -- United Church of Christ helped finish a community center, taught first aid and and led children’s Bible classes during a People-to-People mission trip  to Ecuador, Feb. 8-16.

“The intention was to bring together a group of volunteers to another country, learn something about each other and work together on a common project,” said Pastor Janel Kolar, from the First Congregational -United Church of Christ at Dickinson and New England. “We learned a new word from the Spanish root word ‘mingar,’ which means to work cooperatively for the common good.”

She came back with a greater appreciation of another culture and lots of memories.

“I was in awe -- we are all the same in Christ -- we live in different places, but we are all the same. At the dedication at the end of our trip, we talked about a vision of the kingdom of God, where there are no separations -- just people working together. When you come to a place like this, our work was a sample of that.”

The volunteers came from the UCCs of Dickinson, New England, Hebron, Glen Ullin and Jamestown, as well as Wahpeton and Hankinson.

Dickinson’s volunteers were supported, in part, by the percentage of a Connie Woodbury memorial gift.  People-to-People Global Ministries are an outreach arm of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ. The ministries works with Fe Dice, an organization that works with the local people of Ecuador on micro-loans, matching grants and community improvement projects.

They traveled to the Imbabura Province of Ecuador to work alongside the people of Tocagon and Gonzalez Suarez.

In Tocagon, the group helped both financially and physically to finish the work of a community center.

“We grouted tile floors and painted ceilings and walls, then assisted with the clean-up,” Kolar said. “All 12 of  us worked at the community center in the mornings and then broke off for Vacation Bible School and first aid in the afternoons.”

“The community has been waiting several years to be able to finish their building,” she said. “The people of Tocagon provided a portion for the funds and labor while the Northern Plains Conference provided the remaining funds and labor.”

Because it was “carnival” when they arrived --  a four-day holiday for Ecuadorians -- nobody was expected to work. Instead, the Americans had time to tour the area, including a volcano crater and the outdoor market.

“We did get in some of the fun of the carnival… they use a soap foam called ‘cariocha’ to foam each other for fun. Everywhere you go, you have to be careful because someone will be waiting with their can of cariocha or water balloons! Part of the fun and we all bought some too,” she said.

Rene Heredia, who grew up in Puerto Rico and now lives in Dickinson, was the translator at the community center. Curtis Kolar, Jan Cooper, Karla Staiger and Meghan Bartz stayed with Rene to continue working on the floors and painting.

Lori Sticka, Amber Hutzenbiler and Muriel Hurt provided the vacation Bible school program, with help of a translator.

“We had three fantastic exhausting days of Bible school with the Ecuador children at Tocagon,” wrote Lori Sticka. “The first day got off to a slow start as children straggled in one or two at a time until we had 22 children… Each day the number of children increased and by the third day, the children -- 46 of them --  were standing by the door waiting for us to come in.”

The children did crafts, sang songs in Spanish and English, listened to Bible lessons and then played soccer and yard games. On the final day, each child with sent home with crayons, markers, pencils, toothbrushes, puzzle balls, craft projects and many hugs and kisses.

“Our hearts were full and I think all enjoyed --the children and adults,” Sticka said. “The language difference did not matter -- love and sharing in God’s word is universal.”

Muriel Hurt may be retired, but she felt called to the mission trip.

“I can’t paint and I can’t get down on the floor, but I was able wash windows  and doors, and I was able to help with Bible school. One day I took care of a little baby so his mother could work -- I did what was needed at the time,” she said.

Hurt  came home with the satisfaction of helping others.

“You’re helping those who appreciate it so much. They couldn’t thank us enough -- there’s always something you can do to help others,” she said.

In Gonzalez Suarez, Rev. Marcy Dawson, who is pastor at First Congregational UCC in Hebron and Glen Ullin, led first aid and CPR classes for 67 people -- several who traveled up to four hours to get to classes each day. She was assisted by the group’s three other ministers, Rev. Janel Kolar, Rev. Ethelind “Lindy” Holt and Rev. Ken Adams.

Each participant was given one of the 60 first aid kits donated by churches in the Northern Plains Conference.

In the rural areas of Ecuador, it can take up to two hours for emergency help to arrive, Kolar said.

“The participants in class were very appreciative, interested and involved throughout the classes,” she said.

Dawson is a flight nurse who works for Sanford AirMed out of Dickinson, and is a first aid/CPR instructor.

“I’ve always felt a calling to a mission trip and this was the perfect opportunity -- I am both a health provider and a pastor, sharing the good news about Jesus,” she said.

Dawson helped paint in the morning, but taught first aid and CPR in afternoons.

“They were so appreciative, I actually had tears,” she said. “When we were done, they were so thankful for all the information. I was surprised at how much they did not know, and we ended up going into a lot of detail… Yes, I’d like to go back and take a healthcare team with me.”

Kolar would love to go back some day.  A highlight was the worship service on Sunday, when she was called to speak. She also witnessed a marriage, led by the local pastor, during the service.

“The couple came with their baby, and after the ceremony, the pastor dedicated the baby as part of the family -- it was very emotional. The bride and groom wore traditional ecuadorian dress -- the groom wore a blue poncho and white pants and the bride wore blue and white. They brought a live chicken in a pillowcase into the church -- it was a traditional wedding gift. ”

The mission team will do a report on their experiences during the Northern Plains Conference in June at Medina. A special guest will be the Fe Dice director.

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