Friday, October 3, 2014

Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear)

It has come to this. . .

All I have in material possessions sold, given away, or (a very small amount) in storage.  Gone.  Poof!

Furniture, furnishings, that have reminded me of who I am and whose son I am. . . gone.  Donated, in fact. No one can recognize quality furniture these days, or if they can, they don't care. 

All just memories.  It's as though I conducted a "Living Estate Sale," and indeed I have.  This world couldn't care less about my possessions.  It matters not to them one whit. 

This residence, Pilgrim's Rest, where I first lived and grew up, and spent a lot of my adult years as well. . . now sold.  Escrow officially closed today.  60 years in one family, three generations.  Gone.  Like that. 

In that context, Graham Kendrick's worship song "Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear) has significant meaning to me.  I can say like the Apostle Paul

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  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 rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV, emphasis mine) 

Share his sufferings. . . well, hmm. . . not nearly as much as the Apostle Paul in such a delightful place as our next permanent residence, Cuenca, Ecuador.  But yes. . . becoming like him. . . in his death.  Yes, Lord.  I'm willing.  I'm going following you to a land I never went to before, because this thing pleases you as I become even more obedient to your Word in my personal life, my habits and practices in the financial and health realms.  Knowing you, Jesus. . . knowing you. . . there is no greater thing!

With that perspective, I now give you the wonderful Graham Kendrick and his inspiring song based on the Philippians passage cited above.

If you want to follow along and sing the words as they are being sung, this page from Graham Kendrick has the words for you.  Well crafted, theologically sound lyrics. . . a real treat.  You'll no doubt be touched, as I have been.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"Just Over in the Gloryland"-Crimson River & Cross Road Quartets

Now this is "traveling music" for the Pilgrim on their way to the Eternal Home that is Heaven.  Heavenly, uplifting, joyous music performed a number of years ago - circa 2005 - by the Crimson River Quartet (CRQ) and the Cross Road Quartet. 

Cross Road nowadays is a defunct group, but the CRQ is still going strong in an age where there is less and less of live traveling Southern Gospel musical groups singing this kind of music in churches. I've got several of their CDs which were purchased after hearing them live at a church in Bakersfield a few years ago.  Great investment versus the programming on subscription radio, which, like cable television, offers lots of programming but less and less quality in that programming. 

I've been listening a lot lately to CRQ's "Live at Lake Hills" CD, where this musical number may be found.  Recommended, and I'd go so far to say that the Crimson River Quartet is one of the official musical groups for this weblog.  Rick Moore (no relation - I asked) and group love to "fun" each other by telling jokes in between songs, and their love of the Lord and his people are evident in their music ministry.  OK, so some of the jokes are literally corny. . . but the "Oak Street" joke hits home to me a couple of different ways.  An acquired taste, and one you'll not be ashamed to have.  Just a great time listening to these folks.

Anyways, this tune is infectious.  Clap your hands and sing the tenor part if you dare - and I can and do - and enjoy!  I love the piano accompaniment in this piece. . . listen for it towards the end. 

Funeral honors hero of NASA's Apollo fire

The following front page article from the Antelope Valley Press (Palmdale, California) of June 2, 2014 gives a description of the funeral my wife and I missed due to us not getting word of it in the process of returning Stateside from Ecuador.  The Celebration of Life honored the life of one Don Babbitt, whom we got to know from our time here at Grace Chapel in Lancaster.  The story is by Dennis Anderson, Valley Press Editor. 

               ###            ###          ###

LANCASTER - One of the men in the space shuttle program who knew Donald Oliver Babbitt as a mentor also knew that the seasoned space program engineer loved to tell tall stories, but there was one great story that he never told, and it was about himself.

Phil Burkhardt, who was one of the last of the last in the space shuttle program before it was shut down, remembers coming out to Dryden, the NASA center at Edwards Air Force Base, "and I felt like I had died and gone to heaven." 

Burkhardt arrived in the glory days of the space shuttle program to work on ground operations and recovery, the part that involved the team that went out and retrieved the orbiter after it landed and carried the astronaut crew back for de-briefing. 

His boss was Babbitt, a Navy veteran electronics man who had worked in the space program from its earliest days, the Mercury program profiled in Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff," the Gemini and Apollo programs, and finally the space shuttle operations team. 

"It would get cold out at Dryden, down into single degrees," Burkhardt recalled, "and as the sun came up, the temperature would actually drop, and Don liked to tell stories, and as long as he was telling a story, we would stay in where it was warm." 

Finally, they would get out onto the lakebed at Rogers Dry Lake to commence the day's operations.  That was in the mid-1980's, when Babbitt was the lead engineer in ground operations, and he acted as a teacher, mentor, and friend to Burkhardt, who was in his mid-20's at the time. 

Babbitt, who was 85, died May 21, and his memorial service, with military honors, was conducted Saturday at Grace Chapel with Assistant Pastor Pat Tanner officiating. 

"Today is both bitter and sweet, in that we will honor the life of Donald Babbitt," Tanner said.  "I read his obituary, and I find I always learn something else about someone I believed that I knew, and knew well."

Babbitt's record of exemplary service, humility and courage was underscored by his strong faith and belief in Jesus Christ as his way, his truth, and his life, Tanner said. 

The story Babbitt never shared about himself was one that was resurrected for the obituary. 

"If you knew our Dad, you may not have known that he was a 'hero.'  Not just to us, but to the United States.  He hardly ever talked about his accomplishments, but they were many," the obituary started. 

Babbitt's is a story that was told in the book, "Lost Moon," and it was the story of the tragic and devastating fire that took the lives of three Apollo astronauts trapped in the capsule, atop the gantry at Cape Kennedy, Florida. 

Babbitt, the "pad leader," meaning launch pad, was with the team closest to the burning capsule  that was intended to carry the first-ever team of Apollo astronauts aloft. 

This is from the official NASA history of what Babbitt and his team did.  Instead of running away from the fire consuming the capsule and its astronauts, they ran toward the fire to attempt rescue. 

NASA history stated, "Nestled beside an umbilical tower, surrounded by a service structure, and encased in a clean room at Cape Kennedy's Launch Complex 34, spacecraft 012 sat atop a Saturn 1B on Friday morning, 27 January 1967. 

Everything was ready for a launch simulation, a vital step in determining whether the spacecraft would be ready to fly the following month."

It is hard for anyone born, say, after 1969, to make sense of what the Apollo 1 fire meant.  The Apollo program was the late President John F. Kennedy's vision, "to send a man to the moon and return him safely to Earth within the decade." 

Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs were NASA's steps on the way to realizing Kennedy's vision, and the United States national mission.  Apollo 1 was commanded by Ivan "Gus" Grissom, one of the original Mercury astronauts.  The venture was heroic and symbolic of the scale of the nation's ambition as it tilted lances with the Soviet space program in a Cold War race to the moon. 

The loss of Apollo 1 was a national tragedy that pre-dated the loss of shuttles Challenger and Columbia, and the first warning shot that space shots with humans aboard involved mortal risk every minute of every day. 

By 8 a.m. Jan. 27, 1967, there was an army of a thousand men to support three spacesuited astronauts - Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee - who were checking systems to make sure that everything was in order before pulling the plugs. 

A variety of tests took the crew and support team through the day into evening. 

'All of these men and several others in the vicinity at 6:31 heard a cry over the radio circuit from inside the capsule: 'There is a fire in here.'

'Stunned, pad leader Babbitt looked up from his desk and shouted to Gleaves: 'Get them out of there!'

'As Babbitt spun to reach a squawk box to notify the blockhouse, a sheet of flame flashed from the spacecraft.  Then he was hurled to the door by a concussion.  In an instant of terror, Babbitt, Gleaves, Reece, and Clemmons fled.  In seconds they rushed back, and Gleaves and Clemmons searched the area for gas masks and for fire extinguishers to fight little patches of flame.  All four men, choking and gasping in dense smoke, ran in and out of the enclosure, attempting to remove the spacecraft's hatches. 

'Approximately 90 seconds after the first report of fire, pad leader Donald Babbitt reported over a headset from the swing arm that his men had begun attempts to open the hatch.  Thus the panel that investigated the fire concluded that only one minute elapsed between the first warning of the fire and the rescue attempt. 

'For more than five minutes, Babbitt and his North America Aviation crew of James D. Gleaves, Jerry W. Hawkins, Steven B. Clemmons, and L. D. Reece, and NASA's Henry H. Rodgers, Jr., struggled to open the hatch. 

'The intense heat and dense smoke drove one after another back, but finally they succeeded.  Unfortunately, it was too late.  The astronauts were dead.  Firemen arrived within three minutes of the hatch opening, doctors soon thereafter. 

'A medical board was to determine that the astronauts died of carbon monoxide asphyxia, with thermal burns as contributing causes. . . Fire had destroyed 70% of Grissom's spacesuit, 25% of White's, and 15% of Chaffee's.  Doctors treated 27 men for smoke inhalation.  Two were hospitalized.'

Babbitt was awarded the National Medal for Exceptional Bravery, one of the nation's highest awards for civilians, after he suffered severe burns on January 27, 1967, while attempting to rescue the astronauts during the Apollo 1 fire.  

On Saturday, friends and family remembered what a kind man Babbitt was.  They remembered how, after retirement, he and his wife of 62 years, Jeanne, were consistent volunteers for the Friends of the Lancaster Library.  They remembered the stories of the Babbitts watching over children growing up in the neighborhood.  

Burkhardt, who worked with the Lockheed space shuttle operations team, remembered the day he began work out at Edwards, April 22, 1988.  

Diane Lindquist, formerly Cox, who worked with the Lockheed shuttle team, said: "It was the best job I ever had, with the best people.  We were one big family."

Of Babbitt, he said, "He was our engineer.  He was kind, very intelligent, and up through the ranks of the technicians.  He would listen to you, and he made you want to come up with ideas."

"It was his humility," Tanner said, remarking that the Apollo 1 story was never widely known.  "He did not have a doctorate.  He just knew what to do."

Burkhardt said the Apollo 1 fire is studied to this day as a case history of response to emergencies.  

"You can look it up, and you will see Don Babbitt, and it's something.  That was an awesome guy."

          ###          ###          ###

I, along with my wife, was Don Babbitt's regular visitor while he was in his assisted living home in Lancaster.  We visited him for over one year there.  



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I Must be Making Progress. . . the Gossips and Slanderers are Out and About!

One of my pastimes in my spare moments is to contribute discussion comments to a Facebook group on local current events.  I've also been made an administrator of the group due to my reasonable nature and willingness to thoughtfully contribute. 

Not everyone out there reading my comments on the 'Net cares for what I say, of course.  Not everyone agrees with everybody else. . . me included.  Some times it's hard to find out what position to take.  Many times it's best to take a position of "I don't know for sure without a lot more research" which is more true of the situation than most.  Cool heads prevail, hot heads just get steamed. 

There's a culture amongst some here in the United States of making partisan politics *THE* only thing that is worth discussing, and having your candidates and/or your party and/or your ballot issues win. . . or else.  It literally is a blood sport with these people, to the point of becoming an actual religion in my humble opinion.  When it goes that far, I'd call that making a false idol of politics and political speech, forgetting the Lord and his rightful position in one's life. 

Anyways, with the help of our small group of administrators/moderators, we found - in the normal course of comments made yesterday - one such person.  And they have it in for me personally in the world's worst way for reasons I don't even begin to understand. . . so sad.  I've never even met the person as far as I know.  Why make such drama on Facebook?  I dunno.  The person's arrogance and insistence that they were right, and everyone else opposing them was wrong, combined with some extremely bad advice concerning the primary election just concluded, gave all of us pause.  I put two and two together and realized that this person commenting must be a sockpuppet. . . someone having the cowardice to wear a mask on Facebook and say they were a non real name person.  We checked, and it was agreed this person was a fake person. . . not allowed under the group's rules, by the way. . . and POOF!  They were gone.  They'll no doubt try to get back in under yet another nom de plume sockpuppet personality. . . but their way of speaking, their vocabulary, their passions, and their arrogance always identify them once again.  Go ahead. . . make my day!

Anyways, in the course of the day, I was notified that this person was gossiping and libeling me in some other forum somewhere.  So what?  What is that to me?  I love many of the quotes of Sir Winston Churchill, a leader who took his responsibilities in leading Great Britain in World War II seriously.  One of them is this apt statement: "You have enemies?  Good.  That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." 

Indeed I have.  I have enemies.  Jesus had enemies, too.  The Pharisees, for one, were constantly trying to trip him up and get him killed.  Serious business, being in that position he was in.  As His follower and disciple, I am told I will get the same treatment Jesus got.  Goes with the territory. 

Here's some applicable Bible verses on gossip and slander - and wise speech - I've found. 

  • My enemies speak evil against me.  "When will he die, and his name perish?"  And when he comes to see me, he speaks falsehood; His heart gathers wickedness to itself; When he goes outside, he tells it.  All who hate me whisper together against me; Against me they devise my hurt, saying, "A wicked thing is poured out upon him.  That when he lies down, he will not rise up again."  Psalm 41:5-8
  • When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable.  But he who restrains his lips is wise.  Proverbs 10: 19
  • A fool's lips bring strife.  And his mouth calls for blows.  A fool's mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of the soul.  Proverbs 18:6-7
  • He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles.  Proverbs 21:23
  • A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back.  Proverbs 29:11
  • But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.  "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."  Jesus in Matthew 12:36-37
  • At the same time they learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house: and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.  1 Timothy 5:13
  • Argue your case with your neighbor, And do not reveal the secret of another, or he who hears it will reproach you, And the evil report about you will not pass away.  Proverbs 25:9-10
  • For the lack of wood a fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention dies down.  Proverbs 26:20
  • You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.  Exodus 23:1
  • Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.  Psalms 101:5
  • He who conceals hatred has lying lips, And he who spreads slander is a fool.  Proverbs 10:18
  • . . . being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents. . . Romans 1:29-30
  • Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.  Psalms 141:3
  • He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets,  Therefore do not associate with a gossip.  Proverbs 20:19

***                    ***                    ***

Do not associate with a gossip.  Great advice from God's word today!  And for those gossipers, slanderers (verbal malice), and libelers (printed malice). . . I'll be doing everything I can in the spare moments I may have to either help you to see the error of your ways. . . or be gone from a particular Facebook group.  Don't have time for foolish strife. . . there's better things to be doing for God's Kingdom, and I'll be about them versus such small minded things like backbiting and gossip. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Announcing a New Weblog. . . and a Redirection

As you've seen by now, the last two months have been spent on the topic of retirement, and where to live in that retirement at the overseas location of Ecuador, specifically Cuenca.  Whole blogs have been devoted to the subject by US expats (from which I've learned quite a bit from, thank you), and I have come to the realization it's time to spin off that whole process from my main narrative journaling here and let it have its own dedicated spot on the 'Net.  So I created a place for writings on that very subject here:

Meanwhile, it's important for me to keep on with regular life and reflections centered on my Christian faith. . . what I am learning, and where I am struggling and making progress in life.  So a redirection is in order for this blog.  Consider it done.  Cuenca and associated goings on with the move may well be mentioned here, but not as the centerpiece of what I will be writing about.  There's still much more to write about, and not near as much time as I'd like to have to write about it. 

So here we go, once again. . . down that Pilgrim road, going the Pilgrim way. . . holding the hand of the Master, and enjoying His presence and His smile as we journey together forward to His wonderful land.  Please come join us as we do so! 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Marcos Brunet - Al que está sentado en el trono (To Him who sits on the throne)

Even if you don't know any Spanish, this worship song which was sung at Iglesia Verbo Cristiana in Cuenca is one that readily lifts up the name and power of Jesus Christ. 

Several contemporary worship songs were sung in the worship services at Iglesia Verbo - some translations of English language praise and worship songs, many not - but this one has stuck in my head for some reason.  Perhaps the quality of the artistic musical score and the heartening words from the Book of Revelation are part of that. 

Anyways, it's here for you to listen to and view.  Enjoy!

Translation into English

Song Title: To Him who Sits on the Throne

I want to know
Everyday more of you
Being in your presence and worship
Reveal your Glory
We want to go much more in You
We want your Presence. . . Jesus


To Him who sits on the throne
That lives forever and ever
Is the Glory
Is the Honor and Power
Is the Glory
Is the Honor and Power

To Him who sits on the throne
That lives forever and ever
Is the Glory
Is the Honor and Power
Is the Glory
Is the Honor and Power

*     *     *

(Some) thanks to Google Translate for the translation. . . with assist from my common sense.  Language is a funny thing sometimes, and you have to have a sense of what the original author in the original language is trying to get across, rather than being too literal with the wording.  Thank God I'm not doing Hebrew or Greek translations of the Bible just yet!  (smile)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cuenca and its US Expats on an ABC News Segment (2013)

Now that we're back home in California once again, I can once again use a desktop computer to much more efficiently make posts and edit them, too!  Hard to do that kind of thing on a smaller laptop like the one we have. 

Here's a video put out by ABC News on Cuenca and US expats.  The information you see is true, though the two minutes clip hardly gives any depth to what we have found out and experienced.  For more depth, please read the story text below the video.  The story is well written, factual, and a very good piece that represents what Cuenca and Ecuador is to the American expat or potential expat. 

Please pay attention, too, to the remarks in the comments section of that story by Edd Staton.  He's giving the accurate take in his comments. . . and his interview in the video is also on the mark.  No, we haven't met as yet, but I find his perspective very useful, especially on integrating and making friends with the native Cuencanos versus learning no Spanish, living in the expat "bubble," and trying to make Cuenca into another version of the United States. 

Hat tip to GoGoGringo for the sourcing of this video.  Much good information on Cuenca and Ecuador via their site as well.  Here's the link I first saw, and the very in depth discussion of a lot more issues of international cooperation than first meets the eye:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Some Observations on the Ecuadorian People

Partly because one of Grace Chapel's missionaries - Stateside for the moment - asked me to, and partly for my - and your benefit, here's a rundown on what I've observed about the Ecuadorian people.

Mexicans are well known for their machismo - macho ways - and have an intense amount of pride.  Ecuadorians too have their pride. . . they just don't make as big a show of it.  My friend Oscar put it this way: "The Ecuadorians usually say that they're pretty good.  They're respectful and humble, and don't say crazy things like 'oh, that was fantastic!' like people in the United States might say.  They're content with 'pretty good.'"  

Ecuadorians are generally honest to a fault. . . we've witnessed that enough to know and appreciate that quality.  That said, behind your back, if they can get away with it, they will steal from you. . . petty theft.  We lost a large thick tan bath towel from the clothesline - a feature of life seen all through Ecuador - at the Hotel Pichincha that way.  I told Carolyn Anne it's a lesson learned. . . better lose a bath towel than some electronic gear we have, like our laptop or camera.  By the way, the new camera we got from Fry's Electronics in Burbank is all set up and working well.  We're taking photos now, and hope to load them into the blog when we get home to California. 

94 per cent of the people are (nominally) Roman Catholic.  When I discuss with a chofer in my taxi or a stroller in Parque Calderon what church they attend, they often shrug it off with "I have God in my heart."  My Spanish is not yet that practiced to discuss further this kind of sensitive and very important issue.  I'll have to get better at it in the very near future.  However, I can give from memory John 14:6 - translated into Spanish, of course!  Here in the El Centro district of Cuenca, there's literally a Roman Catholic Church on every block or two.  We hear the bells ring in the morning at 5:40, 6:00, 6:45, and 7:30 for their prayer times.  Every morning without fail.  Attendance is not great, but they are faithful in the bell ringing sin embargo. . .  nevertheless.

Time is not a big thing with the Ecuadorians.  They are generally on time for meetings and business matters, but when it comes to almuerzo - lunch - all bets are off.  No signs to let you know of closed business generally, and when an employee wants to take a popsicle break, you just have to have patience and wait for them to be done with their break.  This happened with the autobus compania - bus company - representative at Terminal Terrestial - the bus terminal yesterday.  We waited about 20 minutes while she had her break, then got our questions answered.  The Manana syndrome is alive and well in Latin America.  

Latin Americans can be a noisy bunch, and Ecuadorians are no exception.  We're finishing up our longest stay at one address in the very nice custom vacation studio loft condo, and moving on to the very heart of El Centro and Parque Calderon by moving to the Hotel Milan later on today after worship services at Iglesia Verbo.  Here on Calle Honorato Vasquez in the heart of the Antigua district of El Centro, there's restaurants and some bars aplenty just on our street alone, with much more surrounding us.  We often get the sound of either a car alarm or a burglar alarm - same sounds you hear in the USA - going off in the middle of the night.  You can hear the rowdier kind of crowds here at the condo in the street, and the noise continues 'til about 2:00 AM, when the bars thankfully close.  We had someone throw either a bottle or a rock at the entrance door, which is framed in a soothing varnished wood with a one way see through glass which is opaque to outsiders with wrought iron bars to reinforce the glass, and part of it was broken the previous night, about 2:00 AM according to one of us staying here at the condos.  First time we ever witnessed that sort of thing, but not totally unexpected, based on what we already knew of Latin American culture while living in California.     

Ecuadorians don't typically challenge the status quo.  If they have something to say socially, politically, or spiritually, they will graffiti the side of a building to express themselves.  On the side of the New Cathedral by Parque Calderon, atheists scrawled in black paint, "Dios no existen" - God does not exist.  No one covers it up or does graffiti abatement here in Ecuador. . . really different than in the States.  Their real feelings are thus said anonymously. . . without fear of retribution.  Newspapers here don't have writer's bylines except for editorials, which are signed. . . the exact opposite of US practice.  That said, when you as a North American challenge an Ecuadorian on a matter of contention, they back off, say nothing, and offer no defense or resistance to you. . . you have the upper hand. . . but don't rub it in.  I was talking to a pastor at Iglesia Verbo about the dirty little secret that is the orphan crisis in Ecuador, and he visibly cringed at my remark.  We will by the way be visiting one of Verbo's orphanages Tuesday afternoon to see for ourselves these forgotten, forlorn children who evidently need much time with loving adults for camaraderie, affection, and guidance.  Stay tuned for more on this in a future post.  

Carolyn Anne has been complimented by the owners of our favorite Mexican restaurant across the street, Mexico Lindo Querido, as "everybody's mother."  What a compliment on today, Mother's Day!  Her love for their children is evident, and the second youngest, Juliana Violeta, just age 2, will come to our table while we are waiting for the food and play games and visit us.  ?Preciosa, no?  (wide grin) 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Visit to an Orphanage

Last Tuesday Carolyn Anne and I had the honor and privilege of visiting Iglesia Verbo Cristiana's orphanage, which is located in the western part of Cuenca outside of El Centro.  A short 15 minute drive by our chauffer and guide, Johnathan, who is a bilingual missionary kid raised in Iglesia Verbo - his parents are longstanding and integral members who have seen and participated in much of Verbo's growth - brought us to a large suburban looking casa, or house on a gently sloping corner of the hilly, curvy street barrio, or neighborhood.

Johnathan opened the gate to the wide and long driveway to the rented house - Verbo does not have the funds to own it - and we walked up the driveway part of the way together and turned right into the porch and the entrance.  Right away we saw young children playing, inside the house and out of it, running, playing, talking and giving a warm "!Hola!" and a hug to Johnathan and in due time giving us their greeting as well.  The house is furnished with tables and chairs and paintings and spiritual/organizational messages on its medium brown painted walls, but would look Spartan if in the US.  The mission/vision of the orphanage is there for all to see, and the many names of Jesus in Scripture adorns another wall near the front door.  You can tell that the brown colored parquet wood flooring has had some use, but not overly worn. . . same with the couch, leather easy chairs/recliners, and the dining room table.  Sitting chairs are all plastic stackable nonfoldable type, similar to what Verbo uses on its church campus in Cuenca.  

The bedrooms, Johnathan explains, are off limits to guests and even its regular volunteers and workers not given clearance to enter these rooms. . . personal space and respect for persons, and not regarded as common space.  A worker is allowed upstairs to the bedrooms to monitor and provide appropriate oversight and housekeeping to children in the rooms, but it's limited to the one worker on duty per shift so authorized.  Five bedrooms in all, and 16 orphans living onsite currently, with room for two more.  One 17 year old girl gets her own bedroom - appropriately so given her age and impending adult status - but the others share rooms, using bunk beds.  That means four to a room on average. . . not like the States would do in a normal family situation. 

Johnathan, who has spent several years in California and in the States getting his Bachelor's and Master's degree from Azusa Pacific University in the Greater Los Angeles area, explains their orphans typically come from families that suffer from alcohol and drug abuse, parents in jail, and other family unit challenges such as domestic violence.  Their stay here is therefore indeterminate, and changes in the home's population happen more rapidly than in a loving two parent family. . . children entering and leaving residency quite a bit.  This adds to a sense of insecurity, and the need for constancy and boundaries and limits that are firm, fair, and most of all loving.  The constancy and love aspects Carolyn Anne can easily provide. . . God has gifted her with them.  Johnathan was glad to see this demonstrated during our visit with several hugs and associated chit chat. . . yes, she is picking up on her conversational Spanish, even as she still uses English when she needs a way to express herself.  

The children are in school each school day, but not all at the same school, in order to help the orphans not become a clique and foster unhealthy coping and living skills amongst the school populations. It's also a way to hopefully get them out of reminders of their living situation and focus on achieving at school academically as well as socially and spiritually.  The orphans come to Verbo once a week on Sunday and participate in children's Sunday School, getting to know God and others better.  

According to Johnathan, this Verbo run orphanage is the very best running one in all of Cuenca, according to the Ecuadorian government.  Some years ago, the Ecuadorian government out of Quito, the national capital, was searching for help in getting orphans into good orphanages.  Verbo's name came up, talks were held between the Elders of Verbo and the government, and a great deal of extra cash was given and spent. . . necessitating a second orphanage, which swelled the population of both to over 50 orphans in all.  But like all governments, the money came with a catch: they got control and made the tactical decisions on running the orphanages.  This degraded the quality of care, and Verbo's Elder Board eventually stood up to Quito and said, "!No mas!" to government's entangling control.  Post government - and post orphan ministry financial bankruptcy caused by the government - the orphanage is running well, with several volunteers serving regularly.  Some we've met already, like Felix, and others we'll meet in due time upon return.  

Our hour or so spent, we left the house and outbuildings to return to Johnathan's newer pickup truck, lent to him by his dad.  Before we did, we met up with a young boy named Paul.  At first I thought his name was Raul, but no. . . he carefully spelled out his name in Spanish to me three times until I got the "P" in his name.  Pronounced very differently from English, of course, and not Pablo - he told me that too.  Greetings and name exchanges completed with Carolyn Anne and I, we then witnessed a very heartfelt exchange between Johnathan and young Paul.  Hugs. . . and out the gate we went.  No photos taken here due to the need for privacy and respect. . . an executive decision I made while there.  

Johnathan related that he knew very well a lot of the people in Verbo we have met already: Erica the translator, Felix the volunteer, Pastor Roberto (the dad of Pastor Rob Capaldi we've already met), and others.  A lot of them have been longtime friends and formative to him, to the point that he feels more at home here in Cuenca than in the States where he was born.  He's getting married through Verbo to a young lady he met there, and as his marriage is just days away, he related once he dropped us off in El Centro he was driving to Guayaquil to pick up his brother at the airport, returning later that evening.  Great guy and may God bless him and his new bride as they engage in marriage. . . God's way, of course.   

Blogger's note: we had quite the fireworks display and noise - we heard the noise, mostly - here at Hotel Milan in the center of El Centro once the evening commenced Thursday.  The policia here now frown on that due to possibly Gringo complaints and issue tickets to perpetrators.  Held about a block away from us at or near the flower market at the church at the corner of Simon Bolivar and Padre Aguirre a block away from Parque Calderon, it lasted about an hour.  And you thought Independence Day in the United States had loud fireworks. . . Trust me, these take the cake!  We thought a bomb had gone off or something.  Nope. . . we're safe here at Hotel Milan.  Winding down our affairs here and on track for a bus trip Monday to Quito, then rest and flying out of Quito for home on the United redeye flight Tuesday/Wednesday, then to LAX via Houston/IAH and Chicago/ORD . . . and home.  Not before we go to a free opera tonight here in Cuenca first!  So many arts and cultural offerings here, and most for free.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Things we miss while in Cuenca and Ecuador

A lot is written by fellow bloggers on what they miss from the United States once living on a permanent basis in Cuenca, and Ecuador for that matter.  Yes, Cuenca may be a retirement paradise on Earth, but it's not Paradise. . . Eden was the one and only paradise Earth ever had.  God said so in Genesis!  Cuenca is not "perfect" from a North American perspective, contrary to all the discussions on the 'Net and media reports out there on Cuenca being some kind of retirement nirvana.  Here's a listing of all the ways one gets less than desired in Cuenca.  As our beloved Pastor Pat Tanner of Grace Chapel in Lancaster has put it, you can "suffer for Jesus" in Cuenca.  Here goes. . .

It's *noisy* in Ecuador, and Cuenca, though with less population than Guayaquil, Ecuador's port city (think New York) and Quito (think Los Angeles) is nonetheless full of noise.  we're at perhaps our noisiest location this trip at the Hotel Milan, which has on its street not one but *two* city bus routes stopping for hordes of passengers at the sidewalk opposite our first floor (second floor in the USA) balcony window.  These buses are old, diesel engine running beasts, and are noisier than a John Deere tractor on a farm. . . especially when the driver hits the accelerator!  The noise doesn't bother me as far as sleeping goes, but Carolyn Anne has had her light sleeper tussles and moments with the invading noise.  She said we would have to change rooms due to it, but this last night seemed to be better for her.  The pedestrian signals chirping to cross the street when the light turns green 24/7 also doesn't help.  Our experience living back home in the Antelope Valley is much more tranquil noisewise. 

Level walking surfaces are another thing hard to come by in Ecuador generally.  No matter where you go in whatever city or town, you have to watch your step.  Entering a building you step up. . . sometimes way up.  Entering a room, you step down typically, but it could be up too.  My depth perception as you may know isn't the best, so I really have to watch it everywhere I go.  Keeps one humble, too.  I've found just one building that highlights the step changes in black striped accenting - a very nice condo building we hope to live at once we return permanently - and frankly wish more buildings would do the same.  Folks in the Antelope Valley, you don't know how good you've got it in this regard.  Disabled access for sidewalks?  Forget it in Cuenca, except for the sidewalks in the central part of El Centro.  And those are at a much steeper angle, causing those walking on the sidewalk perpendicular to the incline to lose balance when walking on that surface.  It would never work in the USA. . . a trial lawyer's dream come true where the lawsuits would come so thick and fast your head would spin!

Food: Ecuadorian food is bland to a fault, and getting anything to shake out of a shaker (like salt and pepper) is a lot harder here for reasons not immediately obvious.  The holes in the shaker look the same. . . the salt looks the same. . . what gives?  Same with parmesan cheese in the shaker.  I guess it's all part of the Ecuadorian way to reduce salt intake and reduce cholesterol. . . (sigh)

Foods I miss: La Victoria Salsa Brava hot sauce (La Costena is here, though and is appreciated as a pinch hitter for my favorite hot sauce), refried beans (Coral has every kind of bean in the bag on an entire aisle *but* this one. . . in the can or in the bag, it's not here in Cuenca), and longhorn or Colby cheese.  Sweet corn on the cob (frozen sweet corn is here, but a much higher price for the gringos here).  Frozen peas and carrots.  Fresh peas here, fresh carrots here. . . make your own.  Quaker chewy granola bars (what we brought from Costco in Lancaster to eat on the plane while traveling here).  Crunchier versions available for a sky high price.  An inexpensive 50 cent to $1 chocolate bar.  Three large Hershey bars - like what Grace chapel gives to new visitors - cost (bundled) over $9 at Corel.  Spices.  Ecuador has them, but they aren't anything like what you would use. . . food from the USA is decidedly spicier.  Make a list and bring your favorites, especially for cookies and holiday mealtimes.  Thomas English muffins.  *Any* English muffins!  I'm grouchy if I don't get my English muffin in the morning. . . Campbell's soup (available at the gringo friendly Supermaxi at a price, however. . . try $2 to $3 a can).  Hormel or Dennison's chili (the local brand is far too bland, with mostly beans and hardly any meat to it).  Albers corn meal - or any corn meal.  Oatmeal.  (It's served at the California Kitchen - a gringo hangout - in Cuenca in El Centro for $2.50 though.)  Pies, apple or otherwise.  Pumpkin is not on the shelf, though this isn't the season for it yet, even back in the USA. 

Big napkins (they're small as the Dickens here).  Paper towels are here, and pinch hit for them, though.     

Stores, by the way, don't do refunds of any kind, even large chain stores.  You bought it. . . you're stuck with it.  All sales are final, including sales of appliances that don't fit the dimensions of your kitchen.  Ouch. . . I saw an ad on Gringo Post where that happened to someone. 

Some things we almost missed:  peanut butter ($7 per regular size jar, Schullo's brand).  Higher price to be sure, but a welcome taste of home.  Paper towels ($1.39 a regular roll).  Double the usual price back in the States.  The friendly, helpful staff at the Mall del Rio Coral helped me to find these, to their great credit - and some help from the Lord in the use of my Spanish. 

Peanut butter, by the way, is not literally translated as such. . . not "butter of peanut" - mantequilla de mani, but is instead known here as Crema de mani, or "cream of peanut," or "peanut cream."  Oh the joys of communicating in Spanish when not completely fluent. . . (grin)  To their credit, Coral's employees that are bilingual in English wear white buttons with black lettering on them stating "I speak English" on them.  First store I've known of here doing that, and shows the Gringo influence, which while quite small at 1 per cent of the population of Cuenca, shows a willingness to be of help to extranjeros, or expats.  There is a strong ongoing need by business and professionals alike here in Cuenca to learn and better one's use of English.  I will most likely be assisting in this need by teaching ESL - English as a Second Language - for income and in a volunteer capacity at Iglesia Verbo Cristiana here in Cuenca, and that will be a great new chapter in what God has in store for me.        

Most of all, we miss you back in the States.  One more week here in Ecuador wrapping things up, and then it will be time to say hello to many of you by phone - at last - or in person.  Thanks to several of you for your emails and Facebook PM's to us and your prayerful support.  We couldn't have gotten this far without you! 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Some Observations while in Cuenca

Time for some bits and pieces about who we've seen, what we've heard, and what we've experienced in our time here in Cuenca. 

Like in the United States, the English speaking expats we meet here out and about are shy about "religion" and associated topics.  Yet they are willing to chat with you about themselves, what they know about Cuenca, and expat life in general.  Many of them are single (never married, widowed, or divorced) men, but there are a number of women in this category too.  There are expat "hotspots" in terms of cafes, restaurants, and other haunts where they often hang out, including what can be called the center of the city, Parque Calderon, which is a beautiful and safe walking and sitting area with plentiful benches throughout the city square park it is.  

We have met some expats in Parque Calderon while on our errands for the day, and it strikes us that they in many ways feel lonely. . . just an observation here.  They know who is new in town, and many times are quite willing to strike up a conversation after the obligatory "hello" in English.  We've exchanged emails with a couple of expats this way, and some useful information in person about condos, apartments, and getting your Cedula from the Immigration office.  Boots on the ground provides better information than sleuthing on the 'Net from hundreds of miles away imho.  The more times you hear something, the more credible the information becomes (unless it's propaganda, of course).  

Another source on the 'Net I've found, a blog called Living and Retiring in Ecuador, states they have found very few expats attending church, much less a Bible believing one.  The few that do that attend Iglesia Verbo, like our very astute lady blogger, often are in the back row for the English translation services provided by headphones.  You can count the number of folks like this - expats that are believers and those who sit on the back row for English translation at Verbo - by the fingers on your hand.  Very astute observation by our blogging lady friend.  I've gotten to meet some of them from the 9:00 AM worship service at Verbo, and they are a tight knit group that typically eats breakfast together in a restaurant afterwards.  One of them, Carissa, is a young American tall blonde woman who is a missionary in Cuenca from her home church in the USA.  She also helps out half the time on the English translation for expats and visiting relatives and friends to understand the Spanish language worship services.  I also met Felix and his wife, who are expats in Cuenca that attend Verbo.  Looks like an unofficial small group in Verbo which we will want to associate with further down the road.  Neat loving folks.    

The bank we're using while here, Banco del Pacifico, is believe it or not another source of friendly exchange and conversation.  The banco opens at 9:00 AM weekdays, and has a line that takes a half hour or so to wait in before you can get to see a teller at a window. I'm pretty much the only extranjero or gringo in line in the mornings(afternoons are with little or no waiting in line), and this latest time I was able to practice my Spanish in good conversation with a married woman who was paying her City of Cuenca Police Department parking citation - you can do that at this bank, according to her.   Parking illegally here costs $40, which using the Ecuadorian Rule of Three's and Four's translates to a USA value of the ticket becoming $120 to $160 smackeroos.  Ouch!  Una boleto expensivo indeed.  No English spoken by her, just Spanish.  I'm doing pretty good on the Spanish. . . thank you Lord.

While I'm discussing Banco del Pacifico, I know from a prior English language conversation while in line there with a young Ecuadorian national named John from a small town near the Peruvian border that there are other bancos one may use for money exchanges and financial withdrawals from your USA based financial institution.  Still haven't found out which ones as yet. . . good to know.  

Our host at our vacation condo, Stuart White, is quite the genial, resourceful and adaptable host.  We have hit it off with him very well, for which we are
thankful.  Stuart relates that Google translate offers the best Spanish to English - and vice versa - translation service on the 'Net, and is written in a way a native speaker would talk.  Other translations out there are many times mechanical and not what real native speakers would say.  Worth knowing and using.  I've been using the Merriam - Webster dictionary site for many weeks now, and will have to relearn that habit to take advantage of something better.  Thanks, Stuart! 

He has also blessed us with a permanent key to the courtyard, which includes use of the patio - and table and chairs, and bathrooms and I suppose laundry room.  When we ever get tired of walking around El Centro once we return here to live, we are allowed use of the courtyard for free to have a respite and also interact with the residents present.  Great offer which we are thankful to have taken. . . we will therefore keep the outside door key to this complex
upon the completion of our stay here, and will be staying at the Hotel Milan near Parque Calderon to finish out our time in Cuenca this visit.  Hotel Milan has no elevator, but has a stunning view of Cuenca from its dining room on the fifth floor, penthouse suite style, where they offer free breakfast to its guests.  Will be doing some more climbing, walking, and such once again as always.  

Which leads me to say. . . I've now gotten to the fourth belt buckle hole in my belt for my slacks in this visit to Cuenca.  About a belt buckle hole smaller each week of staying here and walking about 3 kilometers a day on average.  Carolyn Anne says I look a lot better, and she does too, as she has lost some weight as well.  Another advantage of Cuenca. . . and by not having a car and living like the average Ecuadorian, helping our automobile transportation expenses go way down.  A double win!

Speaking of cars and such. . . some interesting vehicles on the road here.  No Chrysler products here, but lots of Chevrolets and Fords.  No Chevy Novas of course . . . "no va" means "no go" in Spanish. . . who would buy a car like that? - but lots of Chevrolet Forzas/Suzuki Swifts which in the USA is more commonly known as the Geo Metro.  *ONE* Mercedes Benz sedan seen, but lots of Mercedes Benz city buses.  The police here uses Hyundai buses for special unit observation detail community policing.  There are Volkswagen buses that hold around 25 to 30 people, too, nicely equipped inside.  Fiat camionetas, or pickup trucks with a factory equipped tall roof camper enclosed cargo area for commercial deliveries.  SEAT coupes from Spain. . . and lots of Toyotas, Nissans, and Kias here too.  Hondas are motorcycles here. . . no cars like in the USA, except two very used circa 1979 Honda Civics we've seen.  No hybrid cars or electric vehicles either. . . no one here except for the expats knows what a Toyota Prius is.                     

Monday, May 5, 2014

Wow. . . What a Church!

We've been to what looks to be our new spiritual home in Cuenca, Iglesia Verbo, two weeks now.  An exciting group of people.  Let me tell you why. 

When it comes to welcoming the newcomer - native Ecuadorian and extranjero alike - these folks go all out to welcome you.  They may not give you an extra large size chocolate bar here like Grace Chapel back home does - and Ecuador is home to lots of cocoa bean plantations, though the price of the chocolate in Hershey branded form is decidedly higher than in the States - but they do give you something that is precious. . . a rose (men and women get this) as well as a hug or warm embrace Latin American style.  Roses cost a lot less than chocolate bars here, btw.  Try around 12 cents per single rose.  

English speakers like ourselves are also accommodated by the use of a personal translator of the worship services (less song lyrics played by the different worship musical ensembles on the platform).  To utilize this free service, you sit in the main back row of the large and new auditorium and wear some large looking wired earphones (wireless will no doubt come this way in the future like it already has in North America).  Be careful when you stand and sing, though. . . you might disconnect the headphones from the connector, especially if you are a tall gringo like me. 

We've had the opportunity to get to know and thank personally a couple of translators: Erica, who translates @ the 9:30 AM Sunday service, and Belen, whom we met last night at the Sunday evening service - which can last for up to two hours, btw.  Erica has a ready smile and interacts with native Spanish speakers who are taking Verbo's English language classes, which I understand are free. . . what a deal!  They also offer free Spanish language classes for the gringos among the congregation.

Verbo recently had translation from Spanish to English available at all its Sunday services morning and evening.  They've had to officially cut back to just the 9:30 and the 11:00 AM services, leaving the 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM worship services Spanish only. . . but, if they know you are a gringo, and have someone who can translate in a moment's notice, there is translation available still.  This happened when one of the members of our Welcome - Bienvenidos - class that meets on Monday evenings saw Carolyn Anne ( I think she's literally the only white haired lady in the entire 2000 plus congregation) and found for her a translator, Belen.  True Christian love in action!   This gentleman wouldn't quit until he found for her a translator willing to help.  Dogged man for Christ and his people, indeed. 

We happened to come when Verbo was communicating, for the first time in over three years, its desire from amongst the pastors (10 of them) and elders of the need to grow the physical building out some more to accommodate more new people not already part of Verbo or a Bible believing church.  The pastor we heard, Roberto, said then and last Sunday it was the hardest message he ever had to give. . . but it was easily his most rewarding one, as the church now has $70,000 in cash and pledges in hand to enlarge the buildings and its classes and programs.  Using the Ecuadorian rule of 3's and 4's, this amounts to around a quarter of a million dollars for  building and ministry expansion.  A third floor for the existing two story modern building is planned.  This will allow for more teaching space - currently the church has just five classrooms from what I can see - and kitchen furnishings, which will equip the kitchen to finally be a warm, inviting meeting place for youth, couples, and so on to get to share a cup of coffee, some pan dulces, and good extended conversation after the worship services. 

This is a church that has a heart for God and His Word, and for people.  There is probably not anywhere in Cuenca that does not feel its influence.  Our hotel hostess, Carolina of Hotel Pichincha, knew immediately of Verbo when I mentioned it to her in conversation.  Our ever friendly English language adept pharmacist, Tatiana of Fybeca Farmacia in El Centro, has gone here (and we encouraged her to come on back and be a part once again).  From its humble beginnings in 1987 as a small group Bible study, Verbo - which means the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity - has grown to over 2,000 people in scores of home Bible studies all over Cuenca. . . and six other sister churches planted in Ecuador, and one in Peru.  The future?  They are visioning and praying for *20 more* sister churches in the next ten years.  Verbo is currently growing at the rate of one person a day, if a recent Saturday bimonthly Baptism is any indication. 

If this kind of movement amongst God's Holy Spirit - and yes, you can sense His presence here by the Spanish speakers as well as the English speakers -  doesn't excite you, I don't know what to say.  Wow. . . what a church!  What a time to be alive and to give one's life to the Master's business which will lay up treasure in Heaven tested by the Refiner's fire!  

Sign me up.        

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Abraham - the Archtype of a Wandering Pilgrim

As you know by now, I have titled my weblog Wandering Pilgrim's Progress for a reason.  This present plane of existence - as Rich Mullins so aptly called "stuff of Earth" - is only but a vapor, and then it is gone.  Eternity is a very very very long time, and that's what the Believer has to look forward to.  Yet he (or she) is still here on this earth, and what we do on Earth is of importance in how one lives life in the sight of God and man, and how one may cooperate with the Holy Spirit in producing Fruit that will last for all Eternity regarding those rescued from sin and perdicion - perdition or Hell.  Important stuff of Earth, indeed. 

How to live on this Earth is where life gets interesting.  Listening to his voice, seeking the Master in the morning, praying without ceasing, and listening to His response is what we are to do.  He builds His body and supplies for it in various ways.  Not all believers are to do the exact same thing in the exact same place.  Sin embargo - nevertheless - we are to do His leading.  Listening and following is key. 

I am reminded of that Old Testament - and New Testament - character, Abraham once again at this point in the Journey.  Here's some verses from Hebrews worthy of reflection and meditation. 

*    *     *
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.  (11:8)
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.  (11:9)
For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  (11:10)
Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.  (11:11)
Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the seashore innumerable.  (11:12)
These all died in faith, not having receive the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  (11:13)
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.  (11:14)
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.  (11:15)
But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one; wherefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city. (11:16)
***     ***     ***
Abraham sought a better country - a heavenly one.  In the process, he had to leave Ur of the Chaldeans to go to a better country here on Earth. . . one where he could see the promises from a distance.  I too seek, along with my Christiana - Carolyn Anne - that better country.  Being on that geographical journey away from all we have ever known and experienced sharpens the soul's connections to the things of Heaven and Eternity.  Depending on God for everything, for we know not where we go, even when we try to make plans.  We are learning to ask the Lord to direct our steps, to where He wants us to go and in what manner. 
I'll close for now with one great story to illustrate.  Yesterday we were looking for a Dentista - a Dentist - for Carolyn Anne regarding some teeth cleaning.  She was quoted $378 back home for this service, and we were quoted just $25 for the same thing here in Cuenca.  !!!  At first we waited for a half hour or so for the dentist to arrive.  By 10:00 AM, he had not, so we walked to a location where we had seen a dentist office at the Spanish speaking church we were at last Sunday.  That location had no Dentista sign on it anymore, and the office was closed.  So we made it back to our first dental office downtown that we saw.  He was open, and glad to see us!  No appointment necessary for a consultation, either. . . and with my translating abilities - thank you, God for them - we communicated the need for deep cleaning of the teeth plus the need for a prescription for antibiotics due to her knee replacement surgery.  The dentist, Sr. Oswaldo Maldonado, engaged us in some more conversation, and it turned out he has a brother in Thousand Oaks, California that he would love to see more, but cannot due to financial and work demands.  He was impressed with my Spanish also, and thought I had lived in Cuenca for some time.  Not the case, of course. 
We couldn't have done any of this without God guiding us each moment to just the right person and place for each concern we may have.  Yea, God!  Helping us along the Pilgrim way.  Selah.   

Friday, May 2, 2014

Some Folks We've Met in Cuenca

We've now been in here in Cuenca, Ecuador for over two weeks.  Time to talk about some people we've met that you'd never ever meet back in the States back home. 

We're in a vacation condo that gets American tourists, but also those from other countries, too, including Latin America and Australia.  The owner, Stuart White, is a lovely fellow who gets along with all kinds of people in the midst of running his vacation rentals here, and I've since found out has a following from those who have been renting from him in the past.  You can learn a lot by listening to others in the courtyard patio area between our second story loft condo and the door to the street, Honorato Vasquez. 

One of these is an Aussie retired couple from Down Under (Sydney suburbs and Adelaide suburbs) who have their Cedulas, or Resident Visas, now.  They received theirs in February after living here on the up to 180 day Visa since late November 2013.  Her approach on getting  their Cedulas was to go to the Immigration office pretty much every day, and to keep asking questions 'til everything got done.  They decided to use the $25,000 CD Visa route, where you state you have that much money to come to Ecuador, rather than the pensionado route, which we will be taking (stating you get a regular pension from in our case Social Security).  One drawback to their getting their Cedulas was they had to go to Miami, Florida in the US to get a notarized or otherwise apostilled document stating that this much money was in the account.  An extra expense in terms of airline tickets purchased for sure, but they ended up getting their Cedulas in the end!  Their take is that the clerks in that office - who speak English pretty well, though with an accent in some cases - can be like DMV clerks in California.  You need to smile, not ask too many questions, and let them have rule over what they do.  It is, after all, their country which we voluntarily came to.  Good point, that.  Believe it or not they - who still speak very little Spanish - are the only Australian expats they know of.  Brave pioneering souls indeed!  Spanish is virtually unheard of and not taught in the Land of Oz, so I'm giving them great credit for choosing to come to Ecuador to live out their retirement years. 

I've since learned from a rather unique guy, Oscar, best friend to the owner - Eduardo - of the authentic Mexican restaurant across the street, that only recently has the Ecuadorian government in Quito, the capital, let some limited autonomy take place into the running of the Immigration office in Cuenca.  They can now make some of their own decisions about circumstances that come their way, where before they were bound by Quito's way of doing things by the book.  The Cuenca Immigration office also gets very busy - apparently moreso than even Quito according to Oscar - and has been beleaguered by quite a few extranjeros - gringos - seeking assistance with getting their Cedulas or otherwise extending their visas.  It used to be that there was a line of people outside the office, with no seating available or planning to allow the applicant to get an appointment later in the day.  Nowadays the Immigration office in Cuenca has 37 plastic chairs in rows for waiting, and appointments are set by the clerks so there is a more calm, orderly operation to the place. 

Oh. . . why Oscar is so unique. . . he is born and raised in Cuenca, but because his dad is an American
citizen, he also spent 17 (nonconsecutive) years in northern New Jersey, within Manhattan commuting distance.  When he came to the US, he knew not one word of English.  Within one month of English language immersion he was speaking conversational English.  Today he is fluent in both Spanish and English.  You'd think a guy like that would be involved in trade or the diplomatic realm of an Embassy, but Oscar has a real love of the arts, especially music.  He is in a band that plays heavier style rock and roll.  We did an off the cuff a capella rendition of Jim Morrison of the Doors' "Light My Fire," and he truly enjoyed my eidetic memory of the lyrics and the tenor voice God has also blessed me with.  Yes, there's karaoke bars here in Cuenca for that sort of thing, too!  More about Oscar in a future post. 

Another is a Cuban citizen we met at the Immigration office.  Not sure for how long she and her daughter are here in Ecuador for, but the fact we found out she was from Cuba was a first for us.  I chatted in Spanish with her for a bit - thank you, God for this ability - and also did a John F. Kennedy voice impression that she really enjoyed.  Cubans are people too, and Jesus died and rose for them just like anyone else we know.  Talking to Oscar about this Cuban lady Carmen, he believes her to be a political refugee seeking political asylum here in Ecuador.  He says that's the only reason why Cubans come here to live permanently. 

We also met while on tour a very nice young lady who lives in Guayaquil, about four to five hours driving distance from Cuenca near the Pacific coast.  Andrea, along with her fiancée, "George," work in the IT tech industry in Ecuador - she's in marketing - and her family was on the tour bus with us on a tour of Cuenca ($5 and very much recommended. . . be sure to take the top deck of the open roof double decker bus!).  Neat and close, loving Roman Catholic family.  her English was very good, and she wants more practice with it.  We exchanged emails and have stayed in touch especially because of an uncle that has really been suffering from stomach cancer.  According to Andrea, he is an Evangelical believer in Christ, married and at the end of his life with much pain from the Cancer. . . to the point of asking the Lord to spare him the pain and take him home to be with Jesus.  We prayed for him on the bus that Saturday before Easter, and she really appreciated the prayer.  The Ecuadorian people are so open to prayer and thoughtful acts of love.  In this way the Gospel and salvation for the people here may go forward.  So very encouraging to see.

I discussed Guayaquil with Oscar a bit, and he asked me if I knew the hour the locals there got off the streets due to crime, etc.  I guessed 8:00 PM or so.  Oscar said it was earlier. . . 6:00 PM daily.  My research was right. . . Guayaquil is a more unsafe city overall than any other large city in Ecuador.  If you do go out onto the streets there, it's wise to do so with a local who knows the lay of the land and will keep you safe that way. 

Taxi drivers: generally very good, but there are those who are not as helpful as others.  One spoke perfect English, and as it turned out had spent a lot of time in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Really excellent driver who knew his streets and language.  One spoke only Spanish, but really knew his streets in a time saving fashion and made excellent conversation throughout..  Good thing my Spanish is up to par.  One tried to help us to go to the correct Immigration office, but dropped us off at what proved to be the wrong one.   Great effort, but lack of knowledge about what would be helpful to us as Cedula seekers.  There went $2 extra bucks for taxi expense. . . (sigh) One or two have told us they didn't know where we wanted to go regarding some rather well known places in Cuenca. . . Mall del Rio south of El Centro and Hotel Oro Verde west of El Centro, which is a class act where a night's stay for two is $158 (rack rate).  We saw a really nice third floor 2 bedroom 2 bath condo near there renting for $370 plus $72 condo association fee, utilities not included.  Just checking things out. . . not signing any papers yet.  Too early for that just yet.  Interesting how every cab driver seems to know where Iglesia Verbo is. . . it happens to be on two major cross streets, so it's rather easy to find if you drive here as a local.  They seem to have an excellent reputation all around Cuenca. . . no bad reports about the church at all.  Heartening to hear.  We need to get to know those folks more. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cedula Instructions for a Visa 9-1. Foreign Pension

1.  Written request signed by the applicant, addressed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

2.  Visa Application Form: with an Original color passport size photo with white background, the same as is posted on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration. 

3.  Notarized (in Cuenca) color copy of the passport, which needs to be valid for at least six months, notarized copy of your current regular visa at the time the person starts the process and a notarized copy of the registry of the visa.

4.  Updated criminal record, certificate issued in the foreign country or the country where the person has lived for the last five years, duly apostilled (s) in the case of the countries that belong to the Hague Convention or legalized (s) at the Consulate of Ecuador in the country where this document was issued (in the case of those countries that do not belong to the Hague Convention). 

5.  Updated Migratory Movement Certificate issued by the immigration police.  (Valid through 30 days) 

6.  Document issued by the institution that pays or provides retirement pension or permanent income that comes from a foreign country, duly apostilled (in the case of those countries that belong to the Hague Convention) at the country of origin or authenticated by the Ecuadorian Consul (in the case of those countries that did not sign this international treaty), in the country where this document was issued.  The amount should not be less than $800 (eight hundred dollars) of the United States of America as a monthly rent to the recipient, and will increase by $100 (one hundred dollars) extra per month for each family member that depends on the immigrant. 

7.  Certificate issued and legalized by the Ecuadorian Foreign Service Officer, in the country of origin, determining the perception of such pension or permanent income. 

8.  Any document in a foreign language must be translated into Spanish and must have the recognition of the translator's signature before a notary public.  When the translation has been done in a foreign country, it must be apostilled or legalized by the Ecuadorian consulate in the country of origin.  The translation may also come to the Ecuadorian consulate in the country of origin in Ecuador. 

Important: Article 22 of the "Ley de Extranjeria" - the officials that are part of the Ecuadorian Foreign Service and the Department of the General Direction of Immigration, will have full powers to require any verification of the statements set out in applications for visas and other immigration documents to ensure and investigate the occurrence of any of the causes of exclusion provided the Migration Act. 

Note: When you submit the documents, they should be submitted according to the established sequence as it is in the requirements page. 

Visa Validity: Indefinite

Entries: Multiple

Taxes: Visa application: $30 Visa: $320

The process is personal

(The preceding information was obtained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Cuenca, and is reproduced laboriously and faithfully to the letter, down to the spelling and grammar errors.  Obtained on April 29, 2014.)