Fifteen hours later, I actually was home, wearing yesterday's clothes; traces of yesterday's eyeliner smudged under my weary, grateful eyes. The kids were already fighting. The house smelled new again. And within five minutes of pulling into the garage, Calvin made a legitimate attempt at stealing a Bible meant for an inmate at the jail.
We had talked about re-entry, that it can be difficult to process the emotional upheaval we experienced through the lens of the American middle class, where many of us live. In the end, it wasn't the reverse culture shock that got to me. It was the relentless reminders that none of us has found an earthly way around our humanity. We're all the same kind of sick, just with different symptoms.
Somewhere near the end of day four, we had a ten-minute window to meet the grown son of a missionary couple who devoted their lives to serving the poor in a coastal region of Ecuador. Once among the richest families in Quito, they met Jesus and everything changed on a dime. They accepted the call to live as missionaries. In America.
They came to us, made us their people, spoke our language, watched as we wobbled and teetered and fell flat on our faces. They came to be Jesus among us. We were their poor, and I have to wonder if, having seen both faces of poverty up-close, they worried more for us.
Maybe my ten-year old is exactly right, people who have less really do have more in "the spiritual side of life". Could I ever sacrifice stuff for Jesus and find it a worthy trade?
Twenty years later, the couple moved back to their home country of Ecuador, making a community, again, of its poorest.
Their son stood in our circle with a wide grin and dusty boots. His English was flawless, his truck reflected the snap of the equator sun.
"Is this the life you expected for yourself? I asked. I was desperate to know. Maybe, having grown up a MK, the mantle had been passed down to him early. Maybe he'd skipped all the in-fighting and Bible-stealing. Maybe his early adulthood had been marked with a certain saintliness and all of this was a foregone conclusion.
He chuckled, and quickly filled in the gaps of the past few decades.
When his parents returned to Ecuador, he stayed here. He'd tasted America and wanted more. Kissing them twice, he thanked his lucky stars that bamboo huts, flash floods, infested drinking water and drug-addicted children were not his problem.
He built his American dream. And then, over time, he noticed the pain, and chose to walk away from one kind and toward the other. "I never saw this coming."
In the end, he was right. They weren't his problem. They were his life.
I've been home now for over four days, swept back into the routine I love. But I shed skin in those tiny homes. Growth cannot happen without dirt, rain, sun. They bang us around, leave us soaking and burned, and we become a different version of who we were yesterday, or even at lunchtime with our taco salad and the book we can't put down. We aren't divided by differences but brushed with sweeping similarity.
In Ecuador, I learned about the power of dreaming. I studied the different faces of poverty, shocked by the ways they parallel faces I see every day. More than anything, I got uncomfortably close to my own poverty, bent on processing life through the DIY lens of can-do America rather than solely through the work of the cross.
I discovered I still have so much room to grow. I was reminded again that when I lay down my own plans, God fills my arms with better things.
I came home added to, and subtracted from.
This won't be the last time I talk about Compassion International. Like my neighbors an ocean away, they're under my skin. I can't overstate their integrity and wisdom and I simply cannot ignore the ways their partnerships with local churches throughout Ecuador (and the world) are changing young lives and entire families.
Thank you so much for following along as we traveled, for your kind encouragement, especially to Calvin. You're my people, and I'm tremendously grateful for each of you.
I'm thrilled to say we exceeded our goal of 200 kids sponsored. As of today, we're at 241! But there's still plenty of room at the table for you. If you've been considering, or waiting, or thinking it through, let this be the day you see what you stand to learn by walking with a precious child who needs the same things all of us need. You can sponsor a child right here.