Faith Journeys has partnered with Incalink in Ecuador for the last 3 years, but 2018 was our first time going into the indigenous jungle to get a glimpse of the work they are doing there at Ninawachi, their Discipleship school. We sat down with our co-founder, Eric Dixon to hear about his experience.
Tell us about Ninawachi
Ninawachi, means “House of Fire” in Quichua. It is a missionary school in the jungle town of Huaticocha. Students come from villages near and far to go through a 2-year program to become missionaries in their own communities. They plant churches in communities that were once hostile to the Gospel, and often times open up their own homes to fellowship, pray, and teach God’s word. Mark and Cheryl Shafer are like the “mom and dad” of Ninawachi, and have huge hearts for the people there. Business owners back in the U.S., they left it all behind to plant the Ninawachi school several years ago, and have been there ever since.
What was your main motivation to go?
I was really excited to see what our partners in Ecuador were doing. To be honest, I was a little nervous about going into the jungle where there were tribes of people who were hostile to outsiders. However, my heart for the lost and love of the Lord helped me overcome that fear. I know that God will never leave me or forsake me, and that if He was calling me to this, He would be there with me every step of the way. He definitely was!
You traveled with a group of students from California. Tell us about that.
It was such a blessing to join the King’s Academy and serve alongside them at Ninawachi. “King’s” is a Christian prep school in the San Francisco Bay area. As part of their program, students participate in a serving project each year. Many serve their local community during their Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years. As Seniors, many choose to go on this trip to Ninawachi. The Kings staff was so welcoming and kind in letting me join their team and the students all had servant hearts. They brought VBS material with them for the children of the communities we visited. We sang songs, performed puppet shows and mini-dramas for the kids. Many of the children were presented with the Gospel for the first time through these activities.
You said something about God showing up in the unplanned moments. Share about that.
Each morning and evening we spent time with the Ninawachi staff and students at the prayer hut around a fire. We would sing songs to God and share a devotional. After devotional one morning, Mark asked, “Who would like to share something? Who’s heart is just beating out of their chest right now?” One of the volunteers from Kings said, “I have to share something! I know it’s me you’re talking about. My heart is beating like crazy.”
She gave her testimony about how she wasn’t the best daughter to her parents. She was selfish and did some really foolish things that dishonored her mom and dad. She went on to say how she was grateful for their guidance and raising her in a Christian home, and that she was sorry for how she treated them. When she was done, her dad (who happened to be on the trip too), with tears in his eyes told his daughter, “You never let me down, I love you so much, and I’m so proud of you.” Then he went over to her and gave her a great big hug.
Mark teared up, and later he told us that most of the Ninawachi students and staff have never experienced anything like that from their fathers. Fathers are not known to express emotion or even be kind to their children in that culture. For them to witness that moment was a special thing, It was a God thing. It not only brought reconciliation between that Father and Daughter but also helped to draw the others to the Father's heart. This moment was one of the most touching to me and it was completely unplanned by the team. God knew though. God knew. And because this young girl was obedient, we all learned a lesson from that.
You don't speak Spanish. How did you handle the language barrier?
Being in a country where English was not the primary language made it hard for me to communicate with the locals. I was able to stumble through some conversations, especially if the other person knew some words in English. However, there was a precious moment while we were visiting one of the villages. We were entertaining the children by swinging them around while holding their hands. The kids would come to us and stretch their arms up and open and close their hands to show they wanted a turn. One little girl came up to me, so I took her by the hands, and started to swing her around. I wanted to make it fun so I started to lift her up and down, almost to eye level with me (which is pretty high). On the upswing, she would look me directly in the eyes, and I would look right back into her eyes. All the while, I was hoping she saw the love of Jesus in my eyes. I don’t know if she did or not, but I know I saw God’s love in her eyes. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27). What I learned was that even if we don’t speak the same language, I can connect with others and show them the love of Jesus. And to treat everyone as an image bearer of God.
What did you learn about your own Christian calling?
That so little has to do with my abilities or what I bring to the table. In fact, I am the least qualified. But ultimately, it’s all about what God wants to do in me and through me. And He is in the big things and the little things.
At Ninawachi, there were times when I wasn’t quite sure how to fit in. I was joining this team from California and there were moments where they were performing their VBS program and I didn’t really have a part to play. Instead of getting sad, and letting the enemy convince me that “I have nothing to offer.” I did what I could. I played with the kids. I came up with the idea to do the wheelbarrow race. One of us would hold the feet of a child while they walked with their arms. We did a little competition and the kids had a blast! This is a picture of me sharing some of my family pictures with the kids. They loved that too.
Later on, I was even invited in to be a part of the drama performance. I played Simon the Cyrene who helped carry Jesus’ cross. This was funny because, I’m certainly no performer. In fact, while I did this, the kids started laughing! Come to find out, the kids thought I was trying to be a monkey. I was hunched over carrying an invisible cross, trying to act like I was struggling with it, so I kind of had a hop in my walk. The lady in charge of the drama coached me for the next time. “Just do your best, and try to stand up straight.” The old me would have been a bit hurt and offended. But instead, I make a joke out of it and made it a life lesson, I'd tell the Kings students, “Do your best. Stand tall. Don’t be a monkey.” Anyway, the point is we don’t always get it right when we try, but God uses our mess and we can even laugh about it later. At least the kids had fun. And we all got a good life lesson quote out of it. It all worked out.
Tell me about a situation or circumstance that wasn’t what you expected it would be.
We visited several different tribes while I was there. One of the tribes was one that the team had visited the year prior. They were telling me stories while we were en route of how the Chief performed a welcoming ritual last year. They sat Mark down in the Chief’s chair (which was carved into the likeness of an eagle). For about 20 minutes, the Chief jabbed his spear near Mark’s head, arms, side, and groin while Mark sat there without flinching. After he successfully sat there and let the Chief perform this ritual, they were officially welcomed into their community. I was totally anticipating something similar. In fact one of the leaders said they would nominate me this time. Fortunately, we were already welcome, and the ritual was a one time thing. Phew!! Instead, we gave a VBS lesson to the kids and sang with them. There was a coloring activity afterwards, and the Chief wanted to color! Talk about a situation that wasn’t what I’d expected it to be. It was beautiful to see the Chief (someone that hunts and protects this community with spears and bows) become childlike and color with the children.
What touched you most while you served in Ecuador?
There were so many precious moments. Playing with the children, the Chief’s inner child coming out, time with Kings and the Ninawachi students. It was all so very special. I can’t help but think of Heidi Baker’s perspective of “focus on the one in front of you”. There was a divine moment while we were staying at a hotel in the middle of the jungle. This hotel was primarily used by petroleum workers. The petroleum workers were part of a union asking for better wages, and the company had not been paying them for a couple of months. Therefore, the hotel owners were not getting paid. The daughter of the owner joined us on the roof for evening worship and told us the challenges they were having. They were struggling financially. After we dismissed for the evening, I left and started to head downstairs. The Holy Spirit nudged me to go back to the roof and pray for that young lady. There happened to be a student from Kings there that could translate. So I told her I wanted to encourage and pray for her. I don’t remember what I said, but I know she teared up and the Lord allowed for that to be a tender moment for all three of us. She told me, “Many people come and go from here, and no one remembers me.” I just so happened to have my journal with me, and I wrote her name in my journal and told her “I will not forget you. And neither does God.”
Is there any other experience you want to share about?
There was a God moment on our trip that was totally unplanned and unexpected. One of the Ninawachi students was riding his bike back to the school from the soccer field that was right down the road. We were all there playing soccer with the Ninawachi students and staff. Suddenly, one of the staff came running and yelled, “Jairo was just hit by a car!” We ran as fast as we could to Jairo, who was laying in the road, a good distance from his mangled bike. The pickup truck that hit him had fled. Someone was able to call 911, and we waited for the ambulance and started praying. Jairo had a head injury and we did not want to move him, just in case. After an hour, the ambulance finally showed up (remember, we were in the middle of the jungle). As he was taken away to the hospital, the rest of us went into the cafeteria, moved the tables, and put the chairs in a circle. We all started crying out to the Lord to heal Jairo. We praised God in worship and singing. There was a spirit of mourning and hope at the same time. We were all weeping. The reality of God being Plan A, Plan B, Plan C...that reality hit us all very hard. The only thing we could do was pray. And the most powerful thing we could do was pray.
Later that evening, we got word that the local hospital didn’t have the right equipment or specialists to help Jairo. He would have to be transported 6 hours away to Quito and have emergency brain surgery. The doctors were not sure he would make the drive. We cried out to God desperately. Long story short, not only did Jairo make it to Quito, but his surgery went well and he did not have a single broken bone. A true miracle, to have been hit by a pickup truck going at least 50MPH, flown 75 feet, and to have hit his head on the road, and not have a single broken bone or any long term challenges to speak of. When he woke up after being sedated for 3 days, he asked for ice cream and visitors. Praise God!
I know God's plan was not for Jairo to be injured that day. But I also know the Lord used that experience to strengthen my faith and demonstrate the power of a praying people. I will never forget that as long as I live.
Do you plan to go back to Ninawachi?
YES! One of the primary reasons I want to go back is to support and encourage the Ninawachi staff and students. They are truly missionaries on the front lines. Whatever I can do to help around the campus making improvements will be nice, but more importantly to pour into them spiritually.
To use our future team’s spiritual gifts “for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). God gave me a word while I was there to “seek the lost and feed the found.” I would love to bring a team and do both of those things during my next visit.
Interested in joining the next team heading to Ninawachi in Ecuador? We are currently taking applications for our next trip to Ecuador which will leave March 31 - April 7, 2019 out of Atlanta. Click here for more info.