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.