I write this letter as a delinquent. I’m embarrassingly late turning this into the patient folks at Global Ministries, but I admit I’m glad because now I can tell you about the last two weeks. They’ve been fast-paced, medicated, challenging, and travel heavy. They’ve also been two of the best weeks of my life.
One day after this newsletter was due, my good friend Amira arrived in Ecuador to celebrate her 30th birthday, experience Carnaval and collaborate with me on a short documentary about the work FEDICE is doing. Amira and I "grew up" together as young professionals hustling to make it on the mean streets of Portland and both lived in a house fondly remembered as the Golden Girls’ Mansion. But, despite sharing many views on global issues and a passion for storytelling, we had never worked together.
For 11 days (with a three-day break worked in for Carnaval at the beach) we traveled up and down the Avenue of the Volcanos, interviewing FEDICE partners and capturing stories. It was an experience. We both got sick after trekking around a desolate mountain village all day in the rain with FEDICE partner community leader. We worked through a week of pre-dawn wake up calls, logging hundreds of miles on the Pan-American Highway, and filming for 12-16 hour days. My laptop (read: my baby) took a vacation from functioning after an night in a wet messenger bag following that previously mentioned rainy day and caused us a lot of headaches around transferring and storing footage. At the height of things, there were times we were ready to give up the mission in exchange for a nap.
When I look at the totality of the experience, none of that stuff matters because the ends we achieved are so much greater than the means it took to get there. I tell you about all the challenges only to make this point. We had something bigger we were working towards. That purpose behind building something important doesn’t erase our hardships, but it absolutely overshadows them. Film is a powerful tool. It has the ability to draw you in emotionally in ways the written word cannot. If a picture is worth a thousand words, film is worth a million. And now, FEDICE has a bank of footage that shows the impact it is making. That footage will help relay stories of people here who are also struggling to build something important. I hope seeing these stories will inspire people to support FEDICE’s work, but even more to understand the world’s struggles from a place of compassion rather than pity.
I wish I had the space here to tell you all the stories we heard over the last two weeks. That nearly every person we spoke to dreams not of riches and glory for themselves, but of seeing their kids with a degree and a profession. How a loan to buy a sheep helped bring a single mom out of her shell and into a more vibrant existence as a member of her community. How being part of a FEDICE group not only gives women the opportunity to participate as bread-winners and gain equity inside their homes, but also results in their being leaders and decision-makers in their communities. Why communities are now working together to solve common issues and support each other rather than struggling alone to make ends meet.
To conclude, I’d like to share a recent revelation — also from the past two weeks. I’ve been taking an online course on International Women’s Health via Stanford University and getting a lot of inspiration from studying “alongside” 300 peers around the world. But it’s a quote from our reading materials that hit me:
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” (Talmud)
This is what I have learned in Ecuador. Building a more just and equitable world is like a great minga— an opportunity for us to join together in giving our individual efforts and resources to benefit the common good of which we all partake. We each have role to play in this, but it is not a task that can be done alone. Only together will we succeed. There is both relief and responsibility in that fact. For me, it is empowering and energizing. Maybe there’s something in it for you too.
Bethany Waggoner serves as a Global Mission Intern with the Ecumenical Foundation for Integral Development Training and Education (FEDICE) in Ecuador. Her appointment is supported by Week of Compassion, Our Churches Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.