Confessions of a Faltering Missionary

How to begin? There is a part of me that feels like perhaps this is a weakness that I should not expose. Should a missionary ever express that they not only have stuggled living a life of service to the Lord, but have actually questioned the very existence of the God one has chosen to serve? And yet, that is exactly where I found myself this year.

Children who come by daily for food. Their parents often leave them at home alone for days at a time while they go work in the fields.

This year we have suffered so much with those whom we serve. This family has NO food in the home, the parents are never around, the kids are suffering so much. That family’s dad died of carbon monoxide poisoning at age 22 while at work with the oil company. He left 2 young children to be raised by their young 18 year old mother who soon decided she couldn’t handle the responsibility and left the children without looking back. The grandparents try to raise the kids, but 9 people live in that house and there is no food to go around. They don’t even own land to grow their own food. They are all bone-thin and malnourished. Another mother’s son drown while she went to go tend to her crops. Mom thought the older kids were watching him, yet he escaped and fell in the river and was found miles downstream. Another family of 11 lost their house to a fire that destroyed everything. Nothing but smoldering ash and some metal roofing remained. The list goes on and on.

Shiuango family standing in front of the remains of their home.

The last straw for me occured just a month or so ago. We have been visiting a beautiful woman named Graciela for a couple years now. We first met this amazing woman by chance. We went to her community to do a communion service and ended up performing a funeral for both her husband and her eldest son, who both died on the same day- her husband to a heart attack, her son to a motorcycle accident. Because life in the jungle depends greatly on growing your own crops for both food and income, manual labor is a necessity. Graciela had nine children that she stayed at home to raise and now was forced to leave them at home to plant and harvest her crops, mostly yuca, plantains, corn, and sugar cane. We have often brought her sacks of rice and beans and other necessities to help alleviate her burden. But this woman is so sweet and selfless, we found out that she was dividing the food that we gave her with her needy neighbors as well! She is a saint!

Her one greatest blessing has been her son-in-law, Angel, who lives in a community three miles away. He often would run down (literally) to Graciela’s home, and help her with the heavy lifting and cutting. In early January Angel was helping to roof a home in his community of Mango Playa. He slipped and tried to catch himself on the edge of the roof, which is made of sheet metal, and almost completely severed his thumb on his dominant hand. His thumb is still attached, but only because when the doctors said they were going to remove it, he begged that they just sewed it back because he would look weird without it. It is all but useless, and he is attempting to learn to machete using his left hand instead. Ninety percent of the work done in the jungle is done with a machete! At this moment he is having trouble providing for his own family, much less support his mother-in-law and the children that remain in her household.

Jonathan, accompanied by Graciela, on their way to deliver rice to her community.

When I heard this my heart was broken, and I was angry!!!! I started railing at God in my thoughts. “How could you do this to THEM! They have been through so much. Graciela is perhaps to most selfless person I know, and Angel was just trying to help out his neighbors and mother-in-law. He is so hard working. He thinks so little of himself and dedicates his time and energy in serving everyone around him.” I then began to just list off all the suffering we have witnessed. I remembered every tearstained face we stared into this year. How many stories had we listened to? How many people have we cried with? How many people had we tried to offer support to, to give much needed food and medicine. How many kids did we try to love on so they would know something of love, protection and provision. There was just so much pain!!!! We prayed and prayed for these families and it felt God was nowhere to be seen.

All my thoughts culminated me screaming at God, “Why do you let this happen? Especially to those who love you! Do you even exist? If you do, YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING!!!!!”

And then I heard it. The whisper of the Lord. And he said, “I did do something. . . I sent You!” Even as I write those words, my heart stirs in a way that in never did before, in all my years of missions. I prayed for God to comfort these people, to help them move forward after tragedy, to have food to eat, that they will not feel alone, that their needs can be met. And now I see our mission in a way that I never saw before. WE, at least in part, are the answer we have been praying for. How do I even know about these tragedies and sufferings? We were there. We have been with them in their suffering. We have brought them food, we have loved on them. We have listened to their cries.

We are given the privilege of being Jesus to them! God never left. He was always there, and in a physical way. He was there in us! He was able to use us to physically touch people here in this world! It is true that we are God’s hands and feet! I am not just talking about my family at this moment nor am I only talking about missionaries or those that work in the church. No, my friends, we are ALL called to be the answer to another’s prayer!

I no longer question the existance of the God I serve. I instead pray that I will accept this great responsibility and always be willing to share what God wants to give those around us. I pray that I can always be a listening ear, that I can always give food those who are hungry or a hug to someone who feels unloved. May we never miss the opportunity to be the answer to another’s prayer! I pray that we can be so completely docile to our Lord that he can use us as his hands and feet in this world. May we be able to say, ” It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me!”

by Teresa Kiehl

Want to help? Visit: https://www.familymissionscompany.com/project/jonathan-and-teresa-kiehl/

A Venezuelan Nativity Scene

And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed…” Matt 2:14

Last week was a challenging one for our family.  We finally finished all the appointments we had in order to get our permanent visas here in Ecuador.  I was excited but tired.  We had to say goodbye to our oldest son, Moses who is now in the US preparing to take the ACT and work a little before starting college.  We arrived at our house on Sunday evening and our landlord was cutting down trees and plants throughout the property.  He did not even ask us.  Two weeks ago, he told us we would have to leave this house and then a week later he changed his mind!  These vicissitudes left us a little worn out emotionally to say the least.  Monday night we learned that the woman and little girl we took in a year or so ago would need us to testify before a judge on behalf of her character.  We opened our home to her and her 7-year-old daughter who had been abused by a local teacher.  Wednesday, after testifying, we headed back home driving through the jungle.

            As we entered the bumpiest part of our journey home, I came around a corner and a man was standing in the road picking up a bag that had fallen from his truck.  I went around him but then his truck began to back up toward me causing me to veer a bit to the left…and into a muddy ditch!  We were stuck.  Various people came from other cars to help us but we couldn’t get out.  Finally, a truck tried to pull us out and one of the stabilizer bars broke on the front axle.  We would need to call a tow truck. 

            Calling a tow truck in the jungle is a real challenge.  It takes hours for the truck to arrive and you still can’t even be sure they will be able to get the vehicle out!  On Wednesday, it took an hour and a half to get the vehicle out of the mud and this only after waiting two hours for the tow truck to arrive on the scene.  By the time I arrived at the mechanic in town it was after 7pm.  The last bus out of Tena was at 6pm so I stayed the evening in a local hostel.  I was tired and in a bit of a bad mood to be honest.  It was the perfect mood to be in to encounter Jesus.

            Around 7:30, I decided to go get some dinner.  There is a local chicken shop a block from the hostel so I walked over.  Oftentimes in Tena we encounter beggars on the streets.  Sometimes entire families, sometimes young people, all types.  I looked out in front of me and saw a young couple with a toddler.  The mother was pregnant.  They stretched out their hands to the man in front of me who just kept walking.  I wanted to avoid them all together to be honest, I was tired and just wanted to get some food.  The young man reached out his hand and I gave him a .50 piece, a JFK .50 to be precise.    I went in feeling relieved as they smiled and said thank you. 

            When I sat down I felt like a powerful rush came upon me and I could hear a voice (my conscience?  The Holy Spirit?) saying, “Fifty cents? Really?  That’s all you are going to give me?”  I looked up and I had a powerful vision in my mind of Joseph and Mary with baby Jesus in Egypt looking for shelter, for work, for acceptance in a foreign land. They too had left their homeland in search of safety, trying to survive.  I felt so ashamed for my lack of generosity, my lack of concern.  I felt like I had missed something truly great.  God was asking me to touch His heart through these little ones.  I could hear Him saying to me that He was offering me an opportunity that only comes a few times during a lifetime.  It deeply moved me.

            I came out of the vision and said within me “God, if you bring them back around, I’ll give them everything I have in my wallet.  I can’t leave to go look for them because I have already ordered and they will think I am trying to skip out on paying”.  Two or three minutes later they came back around the front of the place.  I ran out to meet them and asked them to come in and sit down.  I ordered them food and we talked about their journey.   They had traveled to Ecuador because Luis (the father) couldn’t find work in his homeland.  There was another baby on the way in January (it was a girl).  They were both 20 and their son would be three in February.  They were living in a small vacant room in a building that another local Venezuelan rented out to them for a few dollars.  I told them a little about my family and about what we do in Chontapunta.  As I finished my meal, theirs arrived and I took the opportunity to use the restroom.

            Once inside the small outhouse I opened my wallet and took out a large wad of cash.  I felt hesitant.  What was I doing?  A twenty-dollar bill would probably bring them to tears but I had 250.00.  I could give a fraction of that and still bless them immensely.  Then I heard the voice again.  This is your chance to give to me, to love me above all else, to trust me before all others.  This act will change you; this act of generosity will do more for you and me than it will do for them.  I literally could feel God’s presence right there in the dirty bathroom.  As I deliberated for a moment, I realized the song playing outside was in English, which is rare in Tena.  It was “Where is the love?” by Black Eyed Peas.  God was wooing me.  He was seducing me.  I was taken in completely.  I put the money in a bag and left the bathroom.

            As I walked out, I saw the couple almost finished with their food.  They looked so grateful.  I paid for the three meals then went over to them and told them that God loves them so much and so do I.  And I meant it.  I said I would be praying for them and I gave them the bag.  Then I walked out and headed back to the hostel in tears.  There is a song in Spanish I like to play in our holy hours out in the community.  The chorus is:

ME HAS SEDUCIDO, SEÑOR, CON TU MIRADA.
ME HAS HABLADO AL CORAZÓN Y ME HAS QUERIDO.
ES IMPOSIBLE CONOCERTE Y NO AMARTE.
ME ES IMPOSIBLE AMARTE Y NO SEGUIRTE.
¡ME HAS SEDUCIDO, SEÑOR!

You have seduced me Lord, With one glance. You have spoken to my heart And you have loved me. It’s impossible to know you And not love you. It’s impossible to love you and not follow you. You have seduced me, Lord.

As the prophet Jeremiah once said, “You seduced me, LORD, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed.” (Jer 20:7)  I encountered Jesus in a young family of foreigners who crossed my path and I will never be the same.  Where will you next meet Jesus?  Will you take His hand and dance the dance?  I promise you He will win your heart if you let Him.

 

“Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

Mother Teresa
Aaron and John and their “fast car”

A Missionary Parable by Jonathan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA football team went out to play an opposing team.

Dozens of couches arrived at the stadium first.  They had designed new plays and exercise routines. Some had read up on the great games of football history hoping to learn the secret to a successful team.  Others had studied past wins and losses in order to overcome previous mistakes and bring their team fresh victories.  The quarterback coach, last year’s star rookie player, had prepared a stirring speech to rouse the team and share winning advice.

Soon afterwards, quite a few cheerleaders arrived.  They showed up early to support the new team while they warmed up for the game.  They sported the latest team gear, twinkling spirit-fingers, shaking pom-poms, and singing songs as they awaited the team’s arrival onto the field.

There were fans, of course.  They showed up in droves and bought snacks and hot dogs and prepared to root for their favorite players.  They talked about last year’s season and carried signs to signal their approval and critique.

As the team walked out onto the field, a calm fell over the anticipating audience.  Something was wrong.  There were so few players.  The bench was empty, no second-string players at all.  Worse still, a large contingent of the players standing were just on the special teams who only played occasional plays.  They spent most of their time standing near the coaches on the sidelines rooting for the team.

There was no quarterback, almost no offensive players at all, just a few tired players on the defense.  In the end, the game was a forfeit.

 

La Semilla Invisible por Jonathan

San Marcos 5:27-29

26 Jesús continuó: «El reino de Dios se parece a quien esparce semilla en la tierra. 27 Sin que este sepa cómo, y ya sea que duerma o esté despierto, día y noche brota y crece la semilla. 28 La tierra da fruto por sí sola; primero el tallo, luego la espiga, y después el grano lleno en la espiga. 29 Tan pronto como el grano está maduro, se le mete la hoz, pues ha llegado el tiempo de la cosecha».

semilla

Hoy, para nuestras oraciones y devociones matutina, hemos leído estos versículos sobre el Reino de Dios.  Me han llenado de la esperanza particularmente después de haber pasado tanto tiempo en casa sin poder hacer visitas u otras cosas dentro de nuestro pueblo.  En varias ocasiones desde que estoy en misión me he sentido inútil, como si lo que hacía no tuviera sentido y más aún durante este año del virus.   Esta mañana me he dado cuenta de una cosa. Nuestra ciencia en ciertas situaciones nos puede engañar porque se basa en la vista (en lo que se puede verificar). Pero (sin embargo) san Pablo nos anima recordándonos que por fe andemos, no por vista (2 Cor 5:7) En ciertos momentos de mi vida no he sentido al Señor cerca de mí, no he visto los resultados de mis esfuerzos y no sabía a dónde iba.

La sensación de haberse extraviado del camino nos puede asustar. ¿Cómo saber a dónde voy si no veo el camino?  Pero es que nuestro camino se descubre sobre la marcha.  Estoy convencido que deberíamos buscar no es un camino preestablecido en el que encontrarnos a nosotros mismos y quedarnos.  No, Jesús es el camino.  Nos toca vivir y caminar en la fe, sin buscar un “camino” supuestamente correcto según los demás a pesar de sus buenas intenciones.  No, nuestro camino se forja siempre en el presente, siempre en Cristo.  No debemos buscar un camino predestinado por Dios en el futuro, sino afirmar nuestro andar en “el Camino”, que es el mismo Cristo.  El buscar resultados engaña.  Más bien tenemos que esforzarnos por ser fieles a este Camino, a este hermano y guía.

Hay una oración de Thomas Merton un monje trapista de los EE UU que dice:

Dios y Señor mío, no sé adónde voy. 

No vislumbro el camino delante de mí.

No puedo saber con certeza donde terminará…

No temeré porque tú estás siempre conmigo

Y nunca permitirás que enfrente mis luchas solo.

Lo que debe importarnos no es adónde caminemos sino con quien caminamos.  Si caminamos con Cristo no importa el destino:

Salmos 139, 8

Si yo subiera a las alturas de los cielos,
allí estás tú;
y si bajara a las profundidades de la tierra,
también estás allí.

Como dice san Marcos, la semilla “brota y crece” sin que sepamos cómo. He aprendido que lo más importante en la vida es caminar con Cristo en la fe, aunque no veo lo que hace o siquiera si aún hace algo.  Muchas veces no “me” siento fecundo o exitoso.  Frecuentemente ni siquiera sé reconocer el éxito o el verdadero fruto.  Solo veo la realidad neblinosa que me rodea y envuelve.  Pero en esos momentos Él camina conmigo y yo camino en Él.  Y hoy tengo la fe que, aunque no tengo idea adónde vamos, juntos vamos y por eso no temo, no me desespero.

Col 1,27b Y ese designio secreto es Cristo, que está entre ustedes y que es la esperanza de la gloria que han de tener.Dad and Mom

Can Joy be Shared on Facebook?

20191107_183554Recently I have posted articles or papal quotes on Facebook and have had some very passionate and even ugly responses. This isn’t the first time this has happened of course, I remember posting a quote from one of my favorite encyclicals by Saint Paul VI, Populorum Progressio and being asked to “cut it out” or I would lose monetary support.  For some time now, lies, gossip, and angry joyless political-based Catholicism have plague Media outlets like EWTN and Lifesite news, both of which I used to trust as resources for teaching various theological courses.  Catholic public discourse as a general rule today saddens me.  I have tried, perhaps in vain or in the wrong manner, to share my love and admiration of Pope Francis.  Being a missionary is such a blessing.  We see so much, so many different expressions of the faith, so much need, so many overlooked.  I have listened in shock at times at the utter inability of many American Catholics to accept much less understand the reasoning for the Church’s teaching on any number of subjects.

 

The reason I have posted so much on FB has been a, perhaps naïve, desire to convince others that the Pope and the Magisterium are still good, that they can guide us, change our minds, make us better and call us on to greater truth.

Judging from some of the comments I have received lately on Facebook the title of this blog may be controversial.  It is strange that we can live in an age where it can be provocative for a Catholic to appreciate the Pope or agree with him among other Catholics.  The Popes should challenge us, challenge our secure places and neat categories.  Being a convert, I have become accustomed to being challenged by this majestic beautiful office.  I remember how difficult it was to accept the Saint Paul VI’s stance on contraception as a young college student.  Now after losing two children (one in miscarriage and another at 18 months old) and raising eight more I can honestly say I am happier allowing myself to be formed by this remarkable faith.  I am truly content.  God is so good.

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Nevertheless, so many Catholics seem unhappy today.  Mainstream Catholic media outlets seem to thrive on criticizing Christ’s vicar and presenting everything he says in suspicion.  I have received posts criticizing me from people I barely know or people who only know my friends, priests and lay people alike who are angry and confused, oftentimes misinformed about what Pope Francis wrote or taught.  I have rarely met even clergy who have read the pope’s most important writings.  Reading someone else’s critique or summary seems to be a la mode nowadays.

I remember how much it used to bother me as an early catholic to meet people who rejected the teaching office of the church or a variety of Church teachings they presumed were untrue and unimportant.  I remember the labels “Cafeteria Catholicism” thrown around to describe these people.  I never wanted to be one of these types.  Yet a person must be ready to give up a lot to ascent to what Jesus proposed and continues to propose to the world through His Shepherds.  More and more lately, I have felt like it can be a precarious thing to support the Pope publically with so many Catholics who view him with contempt and consider their own judgment sufficient to defy or ignore this man of God.

For me the very reason I became a Catholic was the Magisterium.  I know.  It’s not very romantic.  I also realize now that there were a variety of events and ideas that lead me here but the most pressing one, the most evident to my intellect was authority.  The Bible’s table of contents only made sense if there was an authority whom God used to include and exclude certain books.  It was that simple in the end.  Like the authority or not, Jesus invested a lot upon this authority, remember His words, “upon this rock I will build my church…”  Yet I was surprised early on to find out that there were people who believed they were Catholic but didn’t believe in the authority of the living pope.

My first experience was in RCIA class.  I loved going to daily mass.  It was so beautiful and needed at that moment in my life.  I met a man who told me he wanted to bring me to a “real” mass.  I was intrigued, and perplexed.  What did he think was the mass I had been attending?  I soon found out.  It was my first experience with devout Catholics who were angry and unhappy and who didn’t believe in the living authority of the Church.  I had known many nominal Catholics who were any number of things but generally, I found that the few devout Catholics I met were joyful and full of love.  At my first Latin Mass, there was no joy.  In fact, I loved John Paul II and they rejected him as confused and heretical.  I heard catch phrases like “Assisi 1984”, “modernism” and the ever ridiculed “novus ordo” liturgy.  I remember the priest criticizing Saint John Paul II from the pulpit and saying we needed to pray asking God to hear (this time) his prayer for the consecration of Russia to Our Lady.   I didn’t even understand many of the terms so passionately discussed half the time.  I remember they brought me out to lunch and invited me to become a member of their parish.  I simply told them that I had already been a protestant.

JPII Assasin

I loved John Paul II, the story of his forgiving his assassin was so impressive to me and unexpected. When he asked forgiveness to Protestants for the sins of the past, he endeared himself to me.  I saw in him a humble saintly man.  I loved Benedict XVI, I remember getting Isaac a “Cardinal Ratzinger fan club” T-shirt.  I loved Benedict’s ability to teach.  Caritas in Veritate is still one of my favorite magisterial documents. I loved his gentleness and open spirit of discussion.  I love Francis.  My Mexican son Ezekiel was born on the day he became pope.  We added the name Francisco to Ezekiel’s train of names.  I felt we would have a special connection with this Pope and we have.  He has led us throughout our time in mission and you know what, whenever I have felt at a loss, I have discovered that he has given us the answer.  God is so good to us. He has given us a saintly pope in Francis.

I intend over the next few blog posts to share some of our missionary experiences that have changed my mind on a whole assortment of issues.  From annulments to the priest shortage, from the environment to immigration, from Indigenous tribes to the Our Father prayer translation and more.  Teresa and I have seen so much and oftentimes it is so easy to see why the Church is making the decisions She is if you can get context.  I want to give you context. Will you let me?

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We have been blessed to house close to two hundred people these last couple of years in our home in Chontapunta, Ecuador.  Many join us in the Amazon jungle, serving with us in the mission to share the joy of Jesus with people starving for the faith, for love, for someone to notice them, to love them.  Please allow our experiences to benefit you and maybe open your own heart to the joy of the gospel to which Pope Francis is calling us.

“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”  Evangelii Gaudium 1

 

When Crocodile Dundee went to KFC

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Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, program, and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, and our own preferences…Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness – God always brings newness.  Pope Francis

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to bring our boys scouting group, “Caballeros de San Jose” or “Knights of Saint Joseph,” to the city of Coca, Orellana, about 2-3 hours west of us.  The boys had earned this trip through our program having traveled to various local communities to celebrate mass with father Giovanny or holy hours with our family.  Now it was time for a day of fun.  It would be for the majority of them the largest city they had ever visited at around 45,000.  What I experienced on that day I will never forget and I suspect neither will the boys.

Coca

The bridge entering Coca, Orellana

We left around 9AM on Saturday in our van.  The majority of the boys are from local indigenous families and it was their first time on a long trip.  They were so excited.  They all dressed in their church/ school clothes even though we were supposed to be going bowling (which they had never heard of before!). Everything was astounding them, “Mira, vacas!  Mira, cascada!, mira loros!!!”  (Look, cows!  Look, a waterfall! Look, Parrots!!!)  Even common things we saw near Chontapunta seemed to take on new life and mystery.

Arriving in Coca, we decided to get lunch.  My own sons, Micah and Isaac had told the boys all about a new place in Coca called KFC.  We had gone there our first time to Coca and the family was so blessed to eat American fast food.  They were dying to return.   I asked the boys where they wanted to eat and nearly unanimously, they selected KFC.  As we walked to the restaurant they were skipping in the street like it was Christmas. kfc

When we arrived and went inside the boys started yelling again drawing everyone’s attention, “Mira los luces, ve pollos grandes, ve helados…!”  (Look at the lights, see those giant chickens, see that ice cream, etc.)  They were mesmerized and annoying the customers but I loved it…at first.   I asked them to sit down and gave them their drink cups.  They looked confused.  I said they could go up to the machine on the wall and pick their drinks.  They seemed suspicious but followed Micah and he showed them how to do it.  They were so surprised when the coke came out of the machine.  I couldn’t help but laugh.  Imagine how they reacted when they discovered you could have refills!  One boy didn’t understand and had been rationing his soda throughout his meal.  When he discovered he could get free refills he ended up drinking six cups.

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Some boys had been carrying around pipas (sunflower seeds) in their pockets and were throwing them on the floor.  I had a hard time explaining that in a restaurant like KFC you can’t throw your seeds and peels on the ground.  When I asked them to throw the seeds in the trash, they looked around in vain.  No trash baskets.  One kid just held all his trash on his lap until I finally explained that the trashcan was the red square in the wall. 20191019_123207

Some slightly tense highlights included the first group of boys going to the restroom.  After a few minutes I heard loud screams coming from inside from across the restaurant.  People were staring at the door as if someone was being murdered.  I ran over to see if everything was ok.  When I opened the door, the boys explained that a machine on the wall blew hot air on one of them and it was so loud.  It freaked them out.  Subsequently they were putting their hands under the hand dryer and screaming as it turned on.  I about died.20191019_123735

At one moment, the food came out and as we were preparing to eat my son, Isaac went to get a refill of soda.  I looked down at my food and when I raised my head, again there was Ketchup all over the table, up the table divider, and onto the table next to us and onto the clothes and cell phone of the people at that table.  Within seconds, a tall angry man was yelling at the boys for getting ketchup on his white shirt.  I apologized and told him these boys had never been in a restaurant before and we were very sorry.  After he calmed down, I tried to figure out what had happened.  Then the mystery was solved, One of the boys, unsure of how to open the ketchup packet, had squeezed his sauce across the room.  It literally went over 7 feet.  He looked so confused.  I had to explain how to open the packets (here they give Mayo and Ketchup only).

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What’s this hole for?

After we ate, we headed over to the bowling alley.  Teresa and I discovered the alley our second time to Coca.  It is on the fourth floor of an office building!  From 100 yards away, the boys saw something that caused them to yell and jump up and down.  “Ve, ve asensor!!”  (See, see it, an elevator!!)  None of them had ever been on an elevator before.  They ran up to it and dared each other to get in.  Half the group was open to the idea but half said it was too dangerous.  Micah and Isaac tried to help the boys find their courage.  Finally, I had an idea:  Whoever got into the elevator would get to be in the picture and show people back home.  That did it.  They took the photo and got in.  As the elevator rose to the fourth floor some of the kids screamed.  Half the group chose to take the stairs down.  It was too funny.20191019_124748

God is so good.  A little over a year ago, we tried to start a boys group and no one came except my boys.  Little by little through trials and errors, God has attracted new faces and allowed us to make new friends.  Please continue to pray for our ministries here in the jungle of Ecuador.  He is allowing us to meet incredible people and introduce them to our loving savior.  Even as I write this a new day is dawning, the neighbors’ roosters are crowing, birds are singing His praises.  He is ever new.  “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”  Is 43:18-19

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Jonathan Speaking in Mundana

Blessings to all of you, dear friends and family!

As always, we are so blessed to have each and every one of you on our mission team.  It is only with your help that we can do what we do here!  Our mission has been gradually growing both in distance and in depth.  With the addition of new communities, we have been given an opportunity to evangelize hundreds of new souls!!!  It has been quite an adventure meeting our new friends in out-lying communities and we are so blessed that God has called us to this work!  We invite you all to come and visit with us ANYTIME!  We would love to have you join our mission, if only for a few days.  Spending time in missions is life changing and incredibly life giving!  It is an experience you could never forget!!!! (Look at the bottom of page for a special video from our most recent trip of youth from LA)

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After problem after problem with our 2003 Kia Pregio (see right), we have decided it is time to move on to a newer, more reliable vehicle, that is better equipped to drive the off road conditions we are constantly navigating.  We purchased our vehicle a year ago for $12,000 with apprehension knowing that in the United States $12,000 for a used vehicle should purchase something newer than a 2003, but here we have found that that is a rather cheap price for a vehicle, regardless of the make or model.  Because it is cheaper here to fix a vehicle than in the US, and because people tend to fix their vehicles over and over instead of buying a new, more reliable model, used cars are very pricey.

 

We have been researching vehicles to try and find one that would suit the needs of our family, our mission, and these road conditions and have found that we have nowhere near the funds to purchase a vehicle at this time.  WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!!!!  We are hoping to purchase a Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover, or other reliable brand vehicle in the near future.  We hope to raise $30,000 before we purchase our next vehicle!  I know, it’s a lot of money!!!!!!  It is possible to buy one of these vehicles between $10,000 and $20,000, but vehicles in this price range are from the 1980’s and 1990’s!!!!!!!!  To illustrate this point, we are attaching a screenshot of the largest online retailer of used cars here in Ecuador.  All prices are in United States currency (Ecuador uses American dollars!)

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We know that we are asking a lot, and we would not be doing so if we were not in a rather desperate position.  Please, please help if you can.  We will be contacting many of you personally (if we haven’t already) to ask for special one-time donations for this need.  We appreciate anything you can give to help with this need!  Please be as generous as you can be.  If you cannot give at this time, please pray a prayer for us instead!  We believe in the power of prayer!!!!!  Your support, in whatever way you can give it, is indispensable!  Thank you for all that you do!

In Jesus,

Teresa and Jonathan Kiehl

 

To donate:

Help needed in Chonta Punta

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The chapel in Chonta Punta.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of….YAWN!  How many times I have started reading the Gospel of Matthew and felt so underwhelmed by the begetting of sons and family records.  Many of the names haven’t even a story in Sacred Scripture and even some of those that do are far from interesting.  And yet there are a variety of places in scripture where the sacred author chose to leave these chains of names for all to see and read (or skip) through.  Recent events here in Chonta Punta have made me think differently about these family histories, perhaps mainly because God has chosen our family to play such a special role in the history of this place.

Throughout this year we have received a priest who travels our way 2-4 times a month to celebrate Mass from over 2 hours away.  He is always in a hurry and we rarely talk.  Mass lasts for about ½ an hour then he races off to his next community.  It has been challenging for our family to live without a pastor and to live without a local mission partner who usually is the priest we work with.
Last month we were so blessed to receive the first ever pastor of Chonta Punta.  I met with the bishop last month and he told me the news.  He told me about a diocesan priest in Guayaquil (in Southern Ecuador) who had agreed to come for a span of three years to serve as the first ever pastor or the newly named parish of Chonta Punta.  Our community is composed of about 60 communities on various sides of the Napo river and including Spanish speakers and two different indigenous peoples, the Kichwas and Ruanis.  The new priest, whose name he told me was Giovanny, would work with us to minister and evangelize these communities and peoples.
When I left our meeting I was a bit nervous.  Our experience so far had been that, in general, the clergy in Ecuador are indifferent to lay missionaries.  They are not rude but neither do really seem interested in what we do.  This was our experience based on one or two priests but it was nevertheless our experience.  I had been praying for a good holy priest who would come to help us in the mission of Chonta Punta and God was responding but I felt nervous.  What would the new pastor think of us?  Would we have to move?  Would he feel threatened by our presence?  Would we get along?  I also struggled to hold back to hopes that he was exactly what we had been praying for.
When Fr. Giovanny (yes, he spells his name with a “y”) and I met it was unknown to either of us that we would be working together.  I actually walked in on him playing guitar (he wasn’t in clerics) singing with a number of catechists at our October retreat for catechists.  He was smiling and warm (something that has been rare among clergy here).  I thought he was simply a guitar player who came to help with the retreat.  I was there to present a teaching.  He appreciated my teaching and actually took notes and asked questions afterward.  I was blessed.  We ate lunch together and I realized that he was the priest that we would be working with.  By the end of the day he and I knew each other better than I knew the other priest we have worked with all year.  I was very blessed.
Before long the family and Father Giovanny met over a dinner at our house.  He was so friendly and excited to have us in the parish.  He loves Captain America (which is a favorite in our house) so the boys immediately took to him.

It dawned on me the other day as we sat planning and dreaming

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Fr. Giovanny giving the homily for the Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration.

about the future of Chonta Punta that God has inserted us into the family tree of this place.  It felt really exciting.  Whenever the story of this place is told we will be a part of it.  Now that we have been assigned our own priest whose main roles ,and responsibilities are to make our little town, which until now had a good sized chapel, into a Parish with multiple Masses a week.  Our chapel must be transformed from chapel into Church!   It needs the most basic of items, a tabernacle, some sort of sound system, a sacristy, a place for Father Giovanny to live, pews that are not rotting so badly no one can sit on them.  We are even in need of windows!  And in addition to all of these needs, we must mention that Fr. Giovanny will be receiving no help from our Diocese because it has no money to spare.  He doesn’t even have a salary, and I have never seen a collection in Chonta Punta or any other of our communities where someone put in more than a $1 coin into the offering.  Yet Fr. Giovanny, knowing all this, was willing to come serve because the need was so great.

Looking forward, I admit, there is the temptation to get daunted by the idea of transforming our humble chapel into a worth Church. Yet we remember the churches we have been in in the United States and how the history of those who served in the church can be seen on almost every item found in a church.  How many times have we seen a pew or a statue or a stained glass window with the phrase “In memory of . . . .” or “Dedicated to . . . .” or “Donated by . . . . ”  The genealogy of our churches can be seen through the donations from years past.
I got to praying about all this and it made me want to invite others to be a part of this story.  I wanted to invite you to partner with us again to help begin this exciting story.  A new parish, the first ever pastor, God is doing great things here.  Please consider helping us build and evangelize here in Ecuador.  Our new pastor has no home, no vehicle, and the church here needs so much.  Fr Giovanny is currently using a back room in someone’s home and borrowing an old pickup truck.  I would like to ask all of our readers to consider during this Christmas season a generous donation to our mission and to the building of a rectory and a vehicle.  We are hoping to move Father into the back room of the Church by Christmas for the present.  God bless you all and have a blessed holiday season.

Love and the One Thing: A Rediscovery by Jonathan

DSC_0937The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity.

Lauren Daigle

The life of a missionary is often humiliating.  There I said it.  I wanted to say it was a humble life but really it’s more like humiliation.

Wikipedia defines humiliation this way:

Humiliation is the abasement of pride, which creates mortification or leads to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission. It is an emotion felt by a person whose social status, either by force or willingly, has just decreased. It can be brought about through intimidation, physical or mental mistreatment or trickery, or by embarrassment if a person is revealed to have committed a socially or legally unacceptable act.

When I was a teacher I felt a certain amount of pride in my work.  I could do it well and I was respected by my students and colleagues.  I could point to a nice house we owned, 2 cars, I understood my position and was constantly improving myself intellectually.  I remember feeling the great importance of what I was doing and the satisfaction that comes with working hard and becoming better at something.

DSC_1082Missions is different.  I rarely know what to expect of my work.  Often I am asked to do things I can´t do well, sometimes I don’t have the slightest idea what I am doing.  We make constant and numerous mistakes.  Our command of the local languages is far from elegant.

Many times this year I have gone to lead a ministry and found myself alone or with one or two people (often times my own children).  It can oftentimes feel like the locals are indifferent to our presence and the clergy are uncomfortable with laypeople (non-priests or religious) getting involved.  Here in Ecuador the tribal locals are extra cautious and very slow to open up.  I often feel more neglected than respected.  You could say that our social status has definitely decreased! I often feel embarrassed either speaking an awkward word or acting in a socially unacceptable way.

I don´t know why but this last week especially bothered me.  I felt like I had lost my way.  What was I doing?  Why did we give up so much to come out here and do so little?  There were more students in an average class I taught in the US than we see in a normal mass here in the region.  When we do a communion service there may be less than ten people…less than five.   It can really challenge me when I prepare for hours a reflection over the Sunday readings and only a few young children and an elderly lady arrive (usually late).  It can be frustrating to put so much work in for so little (so I was saying to myself).

A few days ago I was walking around the plaza of our town praying my rosary and interceding for my fellow missionaries and the people of our town and region when I felt the Lord speaking to my heart words I had read in scripture earlier this week…

*Revelation 2:1-5a “To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write this:

“‘The one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks in the midst of the seven gold lampstands says this: 2 “I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, …3 Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. 5 Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first.”

I felt the Lord speaking these words to me personally, challenging me.  “I know all you have done, what you have endured Jonathan, I know the things you have suffered following me.  But you have lost the love you had at first.  Realize this and come back to me.”

I instantly remembered my first mission trip to Mexico.  I remembered how Teresa and I talked on our way down to Mexico.  I had just nailed a job teaching Latin at Mercer University and we were financially doing better than ever.  I remember telling her that this was just a trip for a week but that was all.  After the trip, I thought, my real mission and vocation to teach would continue.  I never expected to find Jesus so present in the poor in the desolation, in the desert.  He was there.  He was calling us to follow Him into a deeper more meaningful life than I could ever imagine.  As I pondered our old life and the new life Jesus called us to I felt a sense of gratitude for the call to be His missionary, to be neglected with Him, overlooked with Him, carry the cross with Him.

“There is always the temptation to counter slander and oppose anything that humiliates us or makes us feel ashamed…the Lord says “No”, that is not the right path. The path is the one taken by Jesus and prophesied by David: bearing humiliation. ‘Perhaps the Lord will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day’: turning humiliation into hope.” Pope Francis

DSC_1018Thank you Jesus for reminding me why I love this life.  I have never felt you so close as on the cross, on the dusty road, in the dry and thorny path where the blind and sick are crying out for You.

A close friend of mine told me that Jesus was purifying my intentions, purifying my heart.  Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”  I want to live my life willing God’s will.  I want His life to be mine and mine to be His.  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

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SSME-Ecuador: Who could have guessed…?

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Summer School of Missionary Evangelism (SSME) arrives!

Jonathan and I are so blessed to be able to share with you one of the greatest blessings to be bestowed on us since we arrived in Ecuador this past February.  On July 6, 2018, we received a call from the FMC missions coordinator informing us that the Summer School of Missionary Evangelism, which was to be held from July 12-August 6 in Haiti, needed to be moved to a new location if not canceled, because of violent riots prevalent in that country.   She asked if we would be willing to host the group.  Would we be willing???!!!!!  I couldn’t have imagined anything that could be a greater blessing!  Fourteen on-fire missionaries in training living with us for almost a month!  How fun!  It must have been in God’s plan as well because not only did we have just about a week to prepare our home for new arrivals, but also had to have beds literally made by a carpenter, buy mattresses, all kitchen supplies (we literally had just enough for our family and nothing else), screen windows in rooms we weren’t using, practically wire an entire house and attempt to get some sort of water available in all bathrooms, and another billion details I won’t bore you by mentioning. But it all got done, pretty much in advance, and fell into place with almost no stress or hassle.  AND all the missionaries were able to get a new flight to Ecuador!!!!!! I’m still in awe of how God pulled that off.

But not only that, He sent us the greatest group of missionaries I could have ever imagined!  From the get go they went with the flow and accepted what came their way.  Since they arrived they have had to, I could say participate in mission activity, but really plunge into missionary activity would be a better description. Soon after arriving they were called to minister to a family whose father died and then the oldest son less than a week later, leaving the mother, Graciela, and her 9 children at home to fend for themselves.  The next day, which was supposed to be their day off, turned into a very long day of ministry after hearing of a nearby house fire that destroyed the a huge family’s home, tragically killing 4 children.  Everyone thought that serving this family was more important than trying to enjoy a day off!

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The girls making the best of our 4 hour wait to cross the river.

When it was finally time to leave the funeral of the four children, we had to wait for 4 hours for a canoe to bring us back to our vehicle 15 minutes upriver.  The very next day after a beautiful Holy Hour, the tire blew out on our vehicle and the bolt to let the spare down was so rusted that no one could budge it.  We had the opportunity to wait for yet another 2 hours to return home.  And yet, they sang and danced and made the best out of such a frustrating situation.

Since then the days have been filled with teachings and visiting of the families and communities most in need.  Regardless of the meals missed or delayed, the 3 hour long hikes, the bugs, the chicha, the mud, the homesickness; these missionaries have stayed selfless and giving.  I have NEVER seen such a large group experiencing such hardship with such ineffable calm and fortitude.  We are so honored to share in this year’s SSME experience.  They call us all on!!!!

But, enough from us.  Here are this week’s experiences in some of our SSMEr’s own words:

Cody Grisamore:

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Cody playing with the kids as we wait for a canoe to bring us home after ministering to the fire victim’s families.

We arrived on Saturday, July 13. Sunday morning we took a canoe to a village for a communion service. We prayed for a mother who tragically lost her husband and oldest son two days before . On Monday we went to a village to give a funeral service for two families who lost four small children in a house fire. We spent time with the families, praying for them and weeping with them in their grief. Two days later four of us returned with some supplies as the families lost everything in the fire.
The children are poor and yet pour upon us their laughter and affection. I am soo grateful, and humble, to the Heavenly Father allowing me to be with these wonderful people!
Psalm 117 Praise the Lord, all you nations! Give glory, all you peoples!
The Lord´s love for us is strong, the Lord is faithful forever. Hallelujah

Lauren Dorsett:

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Lauren leading the way on our hike to Mango Playa.

This time spent so far on mission in Ecuador has been such a tremendous gift for me in the most unexpected ways. It has felt very much like home to be back on mission in a Spanish speaking country again and has once again convicted me of the dire need for lay people to respond to the call to foreign missions. Especially in places such as this where it is priests are seldom able to say mass or administer the sacraments to the people. The most beautiful moment for me so far was a day spent doing ministry in a place called Mango Playa. In order to get to this community, we had to canoe across a river and then hike 2 hours through the jungle. Once we arrived, the people were incredibly welcoming and receptive, excited to have missionaries share more with them about the faith. We held a celebration of the word for them, sang praise and worship and had kids ministry and formation for the adults. During the celebration of the word, Teresa, a full time missionary with FMC here in Ecuador, turned to me and asked if I would be willing to give a short preaching and testimony to the adults. At first I hesitated, knowing how much I was lacking in Spanish and with having no time to prepare, but I gently felt a nudge by the Holy Spirit to trust that He would provide and that this would be a healing moment from past experiences with struggling with the language on mission. With that “Yes”, I was blown away by how the Lord did show up in a big way and gave me the words to speak in a language I was lacking in. What a good, faithful and loving God we have! Who truly wants to use us, especially in our weaknesses to show love to His people, and who desires to redeem every moment our lives. He makes all things new. Gloria a Dios!

Bailey Smith:

 

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Beautiful Bailey with Sage on the hike back from Mango Playa.

I have seen so much personal growth in myself this past week. Community life is not easy. You have to be able to share whats going on in your mind, heart, and soul to better work,serve, and live with one another and I have never been good at this. Everyday I’m sharing more and more and I am so much more confident with myself.

Meg Simon:

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Meg with many of the local children in Chonta Punta

The Lord has spoken to me in many different ways here in Ecuador, but the most prominent way is through the kids here. We have gotten the chance to encounter so many local kids here in Ecuador and they have brought me so much joy. Not knowing the language can be really frustrating, but with the kids, we’re able to cross the language barrier and fill the space with laughter. I see the love of God in each one of their faces and their smiles and laughter bring me more joy than I could even put into words. I thank God so much for them and the immense amount of joy they have brought me.

Ceili Lesnefsky

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Ceili loving on the locals!

“Love my Forgotten Children.”

Ever since I arrived in the small village of Chonta Punta I have been trying to figure out my purpose here. My heart has constantly been asking God why He has sent me to the middle of the Amazon Jungle. What can I do here that anyone else wouldn’t be able to? How can I have an effect on the lives of these beautiful people when I can’t even speak their language? I found myself frustrated and so full of fear. I brought these questions to God in praise in worship and Jesus answered me right away, without hesitation as He tends to do when I question His motives. The words He put on my heart were,
“My daughter, I have brought you here so that you may love my forgotten children.”
I was struck by the simplicity of this. While I had been thinking about big, wonderful acts of mercy I could do to help transform the lives of these people, Jesus was just calling me to love. And moreover, to love in small ways; to love the forgotten. Coming out of this time in prayer, I was convicted. I was so full of passion and so empty of fear.
Since that night, I have been striving to do what Jesus has put on my heart. Instead of seeking ways I can do notable, recognizable acts of service, I have been trying to look for ways to love those who hide away from the crowd.
Everyday, I wake up excited to see the children, I live for their voices as they yell out my name in their little accents. I am no longer fearful of rejection, I am excited to learn to love the way He loves.
I think we are all called to love His forgotten children. And through our love, we can remind them that they are after all, not forgotten at all. We have the power to show them that they are treasured, precious gifts in the eyes of their Father. How honored I am to have been chosen to be here. And if I can touch only one heart with the love He has given me, my purpose here will be fulfilled.

Sage Bischoff:

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Sage and Fernanda!

My dear little friend, Fernanda, holds such a special place in my heart! She has a smile that can light up any room.
This past Sunday, I knelt before the Lord with tears streaming down my face. I felt such a longing to be nearer to Him. As always, the Lord knows our desires and what we need. I suddenly felt two little arms wrapping around me and, sure enough, I turned to see Fernanda smiling at me. She completely radiated joy and I know that the Lord sent her to comfort me. As little as my sweet friend may be, it is her who I look up to.
As my time in Ecuador passes, I love watching our friendship grow and the ways that she continues to bless my life. I pray that I can learn more and more from Fernanda and her sweet, holy example.

Anissa Wright

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Anissa and our chef, Segundo!

If I could write a million words about Segundo, I would. We don’t speak much, since I only speak English and he only speaks Spanish but his laughter and smile says a thousand words. Segundo, with the help of his esposa Carmen, has been cooking our meals everyday. Bread for breakfast; rice, chicken, and “salad” for lunch and dinner. The moment I saw Segundo, I looked at my friend Emely and said, “Look! Tio!” cause that was exactly how I felt about him. He is so welcoming and so SO giving! On Sunday night, after we had a home visit, Segundo cooked up a delicious dinner, as always. After we ate, everyone began to dance to the local music that Segundo plays at every meal! Segundo watched with a smile on his face. Though I don’t speak much Spanish, I worked up the courage to hold my hand out to him and say, “Segundo, bailar!” And he didn’t hesitate to grab it. We danced a very long and tiring song and in that moment I saw Jesus in Segundo. It was the most amazing feeling to be dancing with Jesus! When the night ended, Segundo left me with a very tight and loving “abrazo” and said, “Haste el ultimo dia bailaremos!” (Until the last day, we will dance!)

Elizabeth Dunbar:

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Elizabeth touching the lives of the local children at our house in Chonta Punta.

When I found out that our mission had been moved to Ecuador, I was most concerned about the language barrier. I do not know Spanish, and had desired to go to a place where I could more freely communicate with the local population. Yes, not being able to speak to and understand the people here has been a difficult reality for me, but I have been incredibly edified in the ways I have felt close to people despite our language barrier. God has instilled in us a universal language in shared human experiences, and I have felt this through the languages of laughter and tears. Whether it’s laughing over a terrible miss with the soccer ball, or crying over the agonizing loss of 4 children’s lives to a fire, we are able to connect deeply with our foreign brothers and sisters in a way that moves us beyond any necessity for words. I take to heart the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians: “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17). In this, I am reminded that we are able to give praise to the Lord and preach the Gospel in ways that transcend words.
Vicente Garcia:

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Segundo’s kitchen, where he creates his masterpieces!  You can see a pic of Segundo with Anissa’s message.

One of the ways I’ve encountered Christ this past week is in our chef, Segundo. After thanking him for a typical Ecuadorian dinner one night, we entered into a conversation and I learned about his life, family, and occupation. He’s a sincere, simple, and servant-hearted man providing for his expecting wife and their three other kids, and is going the extra mile by cooking two full meals for us, six days a week. Oh, and that’s aside from him getting up at 2 AM to make breakfasts bread for us and his sellers. His providing for us mirrors that of Christ, which is in abundance, to all, even to strangers or ”estranjeros.” Segundo’s name means ”second” as in ”second one.” His sacrifices and generosity make it such that we don’t have to ask him for seconds. How much more can we trust in our heavenly Father to provide for us, His beloved children, through his own Son Jesus as we partake in His redemptive mission for mankind.

Kendall Koch: 

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Benediction during the Holy Hour.

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The faithful who came to the Holy Hour!

One of the times I felt near the Lord would be when we got to go out and invite people to adoration. A particular situation was when Vicente, Elijah Kiehl and I went up to a house and Elijah asked a man if he’d want to come to adoration. The man then asked what we believed and Elijah went into apologetics and it was amazing. The people that came to the adoration Holy Hour were just incredible and the music, although in Spanish (which I don’t understand) moved in my heart. With the Lord in worship the language barrier doesn’t seem so difficult.