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.