June 13, 2009

Team Experienced the River of Life in a Fresh Way

Recently, a 27-member team formed with MNVU students, NILI students and staff, and Seminary students came together to serve in Ecuador. Throughout the week, team leader Jen Staudt shares that “it was a week of ups and downs but filled with God’s blessings for both the people we ministered to and for the team members. God is good and His promises are always true!”

On the first day, the team held a kids club at the new church plant at the district center in Riobamba, Ecuador. 116 kids came the first day, and 90 returned on the second day. The team was also involved in outdoor evangelism as well as two cell groups in the homes of church members. Missionary Stan Hall preached on Sunday morning and translated for other programs. Besides ministry events, the team also did some electrical work, built a wall, and made about 40 benches for the children’s Sunday School classes which will provide seats for more than 80 kids.

When it was time for the group to leave, the children did a little program and gave each team member a scarf to remember them by. While the team was only at the district center church a short time, they connected with the children through smiles, hugs and soccer.

The team then traveled to Vaquerias, an indigenous village in the mountains. They continued to minister to children through songs, dramas and magic tricks. For lunch, the team was served cuy (guinea pig) which is a delicacy served by the indigenous. A great memory for the college students!

From there, the team traveled to Shell, Ecuador, for a couple of days of fun. This was also the day that missionary Stan Hall was traveling back to Quito with a sick team member and was involved in an accident. (Editor’s note: Scroll down to the next article to read the incredible story of God’s grace and protection if you haven’t already read it.) While driving back to Shell after a morning’s hike in the jungle, Jen received a call from Stan asking for their prayers. The team began praying in earnest during the drive. Before they even reached Shell, they got word that Stan was released from police custody with all of his paper work and was on his way back to Quito. What a time of rejoicing for the team. All they could do was praise God for watching out for His children!

Later the team went rafting on the Pastaza River even though it was foggy and drizzling rain at the time. Everyone was loaded up on 3 rafts, heading down the river, until one of the boats flipped completely over. The river was very rough but they finally got everyone into one of the boats. It was getting colder and darker with a lot of rocks in their way. Finally they saw the headlights of the van waiting for them. They were about 45 minutes late but everyone was safe.

As they reflected on their week, the team realized that the idea of “water” had been a recurring theme for them. The leaders were constantly encouraging the team to drink a lot of water both because of the altitude of the mountains and the humidity of the jungle. Then they had the personal experience of overcoming the obstacles of the river to get to safety. One college girl reflected, “You could never hike the mountains without clean drinking water. In the same way, you could never climb the mountains in our lives without the river of life—God and His Word.” The next morning, the team woke to a huge rainbow that seemed to cover the town of Shell. It was another tangible reminder of how God never forgets about His children. We praise God for an amazing week for everyone involved and for the lessons learned along the way. Many of the team members testified that this would be one week they’ll never forget!

June 04, 2009

God Uses Single Mom for His Kingdom

This week we are sharing the powerful testimony of Maria Luna, one of our seminary students, who has two children:  12-year-old Antony and 11-year-old Maria.

My name is María and I was born in the suburbs of Guayaquil, Ecuador.  My parents were Catholic but didn’t know Jesus.  They were satisfied with their lives even though they lived together without being married.  After 8 children, they separated when I was 5 years old.  Life became very hard for me.  My mother worked so we could eat and wasn’t ever home.  My older siblings cared for us but they were not very mature.  We moved a lot without having a specific place to live.  I frequently asked myself why I had to suffer so much.

When I was 12 years old I went to live with my father because I thought this would give me a better life.  However, he actually lived with another woman, so I lived alone in his own home.  When I was 15 years old my boyfriend moved in with me.  With him, I had two beautiful children.  The first birth was dangerous, and I almost died trying to save the life of my son.  Thanks be to God, He saved me and my baby.  After one year, I was pregnant with my daughter.  At this time I was living with another man who wanted me to abort the baby.  After many nights of crying, my older sister took me to her doctor to get an abortion.  However, the doctor couldn’t perform an abortion because I was already 4 months pregnant and the baby was very big.

When I returned home, my boyfriend verbally and physically abused me.  I suffered a great deal and my daughter was born premature.  Because I didn’t have medical attention during this pregnancy, my daughter had a lot of problems when she was born.  She had a problem with her heart; her lungs were premature and she couldn’t breathe on her own; and she had water on the brain.  I began praying to God, to the Virgin Mary, and all of the Saints.  Now I know that the all-powerful God heard my prayers even though I was wrong in my beliefs.

As time passed and my boyfriend’s behavior didn’t improve, I separated from him.  I tried to finish high school, and I worked part-time.  I was with my children in the afternoon and studied at night.  I had no help from my family.  I began to go out with young men because I wanted to feel loved and to fill the void in me.  I began to drink a lot of alcohol and go to parties.

At 22 years old, I heard the message of salvation from a professor of English in my high school.  If we listened to his lectures we received points for our notes on the material.  He introduced me to a God of truth, of love, and of reconciliation.  However, I didn’t want to accept this message because I was in love with another man at this time, and I had bigger problems.  I was without work and the father of my children would not help me feed my children.  This situation confirmed what I had believed since I was a child:  that I was born to be unhappy.  I was ready to commit suicide with my children.  But the night I had planned to kill myself, I cried out in a loud voice:  “If God exists, if He is real, then I don’t have to do this and I will be happy one day.”  After this I slept profoundly.  When I woke up, all the bad feelings had left me.  I began to search for God everywhere I knew to look:  the Catholic church, the Jehovah Witnesses, and the Mormons.  Finally I talked with a minister named Moisés and he made me understand that I needed the forgiveness of God and to change my lifestyle.  In this moment I wanted to know this God.  Also, I began listening to Christian radio.  As I listened, I understood that I was separated from God.  I accepted the Lord in my heart during a radio program by Pastor Adrian Rodgers.

Soon I met a sister in Christ and we began to chat.  She lived close to my house and invited me to attend church with her.  That Sunday was the first time I felt peace in my life.  I continued to go to church and to take my children to Sunday School.  It was a beautiful time for me.  After a while I shared the gospel with my mother and my sister, Monica.  My mom saw the change that God had done in my life, and she also accepted Christ and forgave my father for all the suffering he had caused.  After I was baptized, I became a youth leader.  Then I went to a camp to teach children how to read.  Through these ministries God was giving me an opportunity to express my thankfulness for my new life.

Now, as a student at the Seminary, God is giving me the opportunity to develop as a church leader in knowledge, character and practice.  I feel the call to teach and work with children and adolescents.  I can use my past to help abused women who feel incapable of leaving a bad situation.  Now my prayer to God is that I will follow His will and continue working for His glory.