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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

 

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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.

Blessings Abound– June 2018

The last couple weeks have been so blessed and busy here in Ecuador for our community. So many good things have happened so many blessed encounters have come our way. It all started with the return of our mission partner Jason Healy who had gone to the US for a few weeks to attend the wedding of another FMC missionary. His return coincided with the reception of a new vehicle for our family.

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Jon, Jason and Rosindo mixing our cement floor.

In Chonta Punta the Lord has blessed us with a house that actually has another house on the same property that, until a couple weeks ago, lacked electricity and water as well as doors and toilets. Once Jason arrived, we went to work fixing up the back house. We were able to get electricity inside and began working on the water. Within a few days God sent us a gift. A sweet couple in our town Rosindo and Livia, who sell homemade ice cream, needed a place to live. Rosindo had worked with us during the last month fixing up the house and putting in a cement floor near the outside sink. We invited Rosindo and Livia to live in the bottom floor of the back house. Although it has no doors, it is a lot of space compared to the room they currently rent. They were so excited. We hope they will be a great addition to our team if we get groups coming down to visit. Livia is a great cook and Rosindo is a jack of many trades.

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Jonathan, our mission partner Jason, Fr. Freddy (back left) and a seminarian on the boat ride before their hike to Mango Playa.

Last week Jason and Jonathan went up to visit one of the furthest communities from us in ChotaPunta. Its called Mangoplaya which means Mango Beach. It was such a blessing. They went up early in the morning with Father Freddy and two seminarians. It was a 15 min drive from Chonta Punta then a 10 minute ride in a motor canoe. After that a 6 kilometer march through the jungle up mountain sides and in the mud. They arrived bringing catechesis and songs to the community before Mass while Father Fredy confessed people. After Mass the community blessed the five of them with a Monkey and Blood Stew! The people were so welcoming and desirous to learn the faith. When they returned that afternoon they were tired and joyful that God had given them the chance to serve in this way.

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Monkey and blood stew.

Last Sunday morning the whole family visited the community called Los Rios (The Rivers). Father asked us to go early to encourage the people with songs and give a teaching. It was really well attended. The people loved to sing and we were able to hand out a number of Bibles thanks to generous benefactors. We decided to go back again this last Sunday to celebrate a communion service. We mentioned the idea to the people and they were excited to have us back. Nevertheless, when we arrived around 8:30 AM, there was only one man there! We felt let down a little but decided to go out and invite people from the community. After inviting people for about half an hour we returned to the church and found people gathering inside. Before long people filled the little church. We presented a talk on God’s love, sin and the need for a Savior. At the end of the reflection before communion Jonathan asked people to publicly acknowledge Jesus and ask Him into their lives by raising their hands. Hands shot up all over the room! It was so encouraging. We have been struggling for months here seeming to make no headway. We have had many prayer services and youth group meetings with no people whatsoever. What is most odd is that we didn’t feel discouraged. Usually we would be sorely tempted to discouragement but God kept speaking to us to trust Him and keep on serving. Now we are finally seeing some fruits and it is so awesome.

Other highlights of this last week include visiting a new community, Selva Amazonica, with Fr. Freddy and a Seminarian on Monday for Mass, catechesis and songs. Wednesday our kids ministry cleaned up our local park after prayer.

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Jonathan and Teresa enjoying rat stew on Jonathan’s second visit to Mangoplaya.

Perhaps the best part of the week was going back to Mangoplaya the second time. Jason, Teresa and Jonathan went, leaving the seven children with a babysitter. It was an incredible journey. The whole community was so receptive and thankful for having a visit by missionaries once again. God willing, we will make this a weekly visit! Our next trip will be on June 30, and we will be bringing all of the children with us! It should be an awesome, though long, adventurous hike for everyone that ends with a memorable visit. Please pray for our visits to Mangoplaya and the surrounding communities. May God’s will be done and may hearts be opened and set on fire!

One last note: We have an idea, and we need your help! Many of the outlying communities not only have no chapel, but they also have no sort of music to go along with their services when we are not present. Our idea is to purchase ukuleles that we will bring with us to the far communities. They are easy to play, often the cords are only one finger on one string. Jon will teach a volunteer to play the ukuleles, one song per visit, so that when Father comes to say Mass they will be able to have music in their services. If you are interested in helping with this project, please consider donating online at https://www.familymissionscompany.com/project/jonathan-and-teresa-kiehl/ and write “ukuleles” into the message field.

Thank you all for your continuing prayer and financial support. We couldn’t do what we do without you!

 

The Mission at the Crossroads by Jonathan Kiehl

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I Cor 1:18

DSC01501        My life in missions has been full of crosses.  In a way most of my experience of missions has been walking under the cross, at times sorely felt and at other times barely, but nevertheless it is uncomfortable and humbling and almost always near.  For me it started the moment we entered Mexico and couldn’t verbally communicate.  It was discouraging and frustrating to travel so far and be able to say so little.  We had hoped for the gift of tongues or some miracle that would take away the difficulty of learning a new language but alas, no supernatural gifts of Spanish were given and we had to learn the hard way through embarrassment and even shame.

DSC01843            Family life is a struggle as well.  Most of the people, places, traditions and things you love or enjoy are gone.  Restaurants or family getaways become scarce and it can at times be hard to even want to eat another round of rice and rubbery chicken.  Although the absence of creature comforts- ice cream or pizza- are manageable, it can be harder when your kids have few or no friends, or the friends they meet are immoral or mean. I myself have lived most of my life in missions with few real friends nearby.

DSC01877           Sometimes I ask myself why we are still here.  Yesterday I was praying my rosary and asking God what He was doing.  Our time here in Ecuador has been far from easy.  I have rarely encountered so many obstacles in such a small span of time.  Every step forward is hard and slow.  People (including our pastor) do not fully understand why we are here.  Why would we travel across the planet to talk about Jesus?  We aren’t even priests so what could we possible offer?  This is the epitome of missionary life as a Catholic lay person- prepare to be misunderstood.

DSC01888           When I feel like discouragement is near or life is heavy I like to go to Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  I always seem to be encouraged by Saint Paul in this letter.  I woke up this morning and began reading my Bible in Philippians where Paul writes from prison.  It dawned on me that this, one of Paul’s most encouraging letters is written from a jail cell.  He must have felt pretty useless at times during his long stints in a cell.  I have felt very tried trying to figure out why God has not just cleared out paths and made it easy.  Then I read, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine.” (Phil 1:29-30)  This is truly a different way of seeing the difficulties in our lives even here in mission.  God is not going to bless us, He is not going to show us His glory, no Paul asserts that He is blesses us by our participation in the suffering of Christ, in His cross.

DSC01788           The key verse for me today was “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.”  (Phil 3: 8-9a)  This is why we entered missions- to find ourselves in His Will and His Life.  This is why we left our lives that made sense full of friends and creature comforts- to follow Him and gain Him.  This is why although I feel unsure how God is going to work out our mission here in Ecuador I feel confident that “the Lord is at hand.  Have no anxiety about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  (Phil 4:5b-6)  Thank you Jesus for the call to missions and the call to the cross.  I await your response, “Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains of spices.” (Songs 8:14)

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Acknowledging Jesus in the Poor and the Immigrant: A Reflection on Our Time in Costa Rica

“I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.” 

Luke 12:8-9

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Micah and I on the bus

Micah and I spent the last week in Costa Rica helping out with a short term mission trip consisting of two parishes from Alabama and Florida. It was a blessed trip and had a number of firsts for us. One of those firsts was that the trip had two priests attending which allowed for daily mass both in our base town of Coopavega and mass in the surrounding small communities where there is only monthly or quarterly mass.

I was in charge of one of the work projects working with a poor Nicaraguan family who had crossed the river to Costa Rica seeking a better life. They lived in a small wooden house covered in dirt next door to the local lumber yard. The inside of the house had a flimsy wooden floor to help keep it about a foot off the ground because water sometimes flowed underneath. 20170728_102127[1]When we entered the house we had to watch out for the center of the room because you could feel the wood giving way and there was a space large enough for a small child to fall through. There were about 7 people living in the house from what I could tell. The oldest woman was named Rosario (Rosary). She recently had a stroke but was so happy.

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Phil Brupbacher, one of the local missionaries down there told me she loved to be prayed with. Fr Jim Dane, the pastor of St Thomas Parish in Orange Beach, AL was with us the first day. He blessed the family and we all prayed for them and Rosario’s healing. While we were there work on their new house next door progressed rapidly. A roof was put on and most of the house was painted.

20170728_071451[1]Felipe, her soon-to-be-spouse, was so excited and had such a beautiful smile. He told us of the hard times in Nicaragua and his new life in Costa Rica. On our last day they fed us homemade tortillas and cheese.

This morning as I was reading my Bible I read a passage in Luke 12 that appeared to me in a new way. Jesus begins to tell his disciples not to be hypocrites like the Pharisees. THeir attitude could probably be best summed up as in Jesus’ parable on the two men who go up to the temple:

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The dump side of the lumberyard next to Rosario and Felipe’s house.  Those piles are saw dust.

Luke 18: 10 Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

Or earlier in the parable of the Good Samaritan:

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Rosario’s grandkids

Luke 10: 31 A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.32 Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.33 But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.

In both the parables the men overlook the fact that the man before them is a child of God, their brother and as Jesus reveals, in a mysterious way they also are Him. (Matt 25)

I have heard so many times people, who when encountering the poor, instead of being moved to compassion, are rather grateful that it is not they who are suffering or poor. When confronted with misery, instead of feeling compelled to share in the cross they rather go the other side of the road, grateful that they are not the ones suffering. And yet here is where the Luke 12:8-9 spoke to me in a new way.

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Phil Brupbacher and Fr Jim outside the new house about to start painting

When we acknowledge that it is Jesus in the poor, in the migrant, in the Felipe’s and Rosario’s of this world we can understand better the idea that Jesus is not asking us to acknowledge Him publicly only in times of religious persecution. He is asking us to identify with the poor, the migrants, the refugees. He is asking us to see Him, recognize Him, stop and look into His eyes, love Him. He really is present in the miserable of our world. He still carries the cross of every man or woman who has a cross. I know that even our small crosses would be too heavy if He wasn’t walking with us helping us on.

I pray I can be the first to recognize Him in those around me, the lost, the unlovable, the filthy, stinking masses of sinners who bear the image of the crucified Lord.

20170728_105349[1]“Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me. [Mat 25:34 ff]. What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.”

St John Chrysostom Homily 50