One day we received a message from a couple in Southern Utah. They said they had read on our web-site that we were making expeditions into Tena, Ecuador. They wondered if they could send a suitcase with us and give it to a lady there.
As it happened, Gordon and I had planned a trip to Ecuador in March 2009 to visit Washington Zambrano and see how the work was going on in the clinics there. We said that we would happily carry that suitcase.
The lady had explained to us that they had lived in Tena for about 10 years and this lady had helped in their family while they lived there. They said they wanted to help her because they had news that her husband had left her and she was having a hard time. We thought at the time that this would be a fairly easy task. She had given us an address and we thought we would just drop by her house in town and deliver the suitcase. Well, it turn out to be a little different than we imagined.
Washington had planned for us to go to Tena as part of our visit to the 4 clinics that were operating in Ecuador. We were to take a bus because this town is across the Andes Mountains in the jungle part of Ecuador where the headwaters of the Amazon River is. We traveled all day to get there. I didn’t realize what was going to happen and didn’t take a coat with me, thinking that it would be very warm. Well, that was true when we got to our destination, but the actual drive was quite cold. We had to climb to a high altitude to get over the mountains and thus the air was thin and chilly. No heat in the bus.
The scenery was spectacular! It was so green and beautiful. The road wound around the villages and we kept climbing and climbing. As we crested the tops of the mountains you could see the cloud below. We even saw the tops of a couple of volcanoes from our height. I got tired on the bus but I didn’t dare close my eyes for fear that I would miss some of the amazing views.
By evening we were in Tena. On this side of the mountain it was very warm. Washington had arranged for us to stay at a very interesting hotel. It was a group of small individual cabins that were set up on the hillside. The path up was quite steep so we were taken up the back with a pickup. The hillside was beautiful with all kinds of colorful and interesting plants and flowers. At the top there even was a small swimming pool. Our cabin had air conditioning which made it comfortable so we could sleep. It was clean but sparse. We found out that in the cabin right next to us was a surgeon and his wife from New York who was volunteering at a hospital in town.
That night we met with the crew from the clinic there. We had our evening meal together and really enjoyed getting to know them. One gentleman was a guide for groups to trek into the jungle. He said that there were many kinds of animals and birds in the area. Gordon and I and Washington and Maria were considered dignitaries and were given special necklaces to denote our status. They were hand made from seeds in that area. The next morning we packed up and the main group went on to a little village called Shana which was further into the jungle. Gordon and I stayed behind because Gordon was to sign an agreement with the Mayor and have a little time for PR with him.
We waited in the lobby of the Mayor’s office with quite a number of people. Finally it was our turn. We were ushered into his office and Washington explained what we were doing there and how it affected the people of his city. The Mayor was very impressed and they chatted for quite a few minutes. Gordon and Washington signed some papers and we prepared to leave and catch up with the others. But the Mayor said that he wanted to show us his town and then go see what we were doing. So we were escorted to his personal pickup and off we went. As we drove through Tena, the Mayor showed us all the improvements that he had helped to implement. New roads were going in and health facilities and schools were being built. We felt privileged to have such a tour by the head of government there. He was at that time running for the next term in office. His name meant “ant” in Spanish so all his posters and banners exclaimed that he worked like an ant for the people of the city. It reminded me of the song “High Hopes” by Frank Sinatra in which the little ant accomplished great and impossible deeds because he had high hopes. The Mayor was just like that.
When we got to Shana the group had already started to set up and people were already waiting to see the doctors and dentists. There was a little school in the village and the government had poured a big cement slab with a big metal canopy as a place for the children to play and the village to gather. The portable dentals units were set up inside the school and our mobile medical unit had pulled up alongside and the doctors saw patients in that unit. The main health worker for that area greeted us and was very pleased to also greet the Mayor. She took us on a tour of the area and talked to us about the health needs of the people.
She said the greatest health need for the area was birth control. She said the families had many children and there was not enough food to keep them all healthy. She said there was very little work and so the people and children suffered. The government tried to supplement the children by providing a mush similar to the incaperina that we supplement in Guatemala. We went to a little daycare area. There were about 15 children there. There were several little beds and a few toys. I foolishly asked where the mothers worked that had left there children there. I was told that they were there because they were fed a meal. The health nurse told me that sometimes the parents don’t care if the children get sick and die because it relieves the parents from providing for one more child. I was astounded! I just never had encountered such a situation. I was grieved to hear of such a thing. Later after our lunch they showed us some of the handiwork of the people. There were necklaces and earrings and bracelets all made from the seeds and feathers that were in the area. Of course I bought as many as I felt I could just to help the people.
We walked down by the _____ River and were shown a little resort area that had been built and was about to open. It was in a beautiful little area and had about 20 little cabins for overnight guests and an area that was a cafeteria and a place for local trinkets to sold for souvenirs. They were trying to build a cash product to employ people and build the local economy. I really hope it would be a success.
The medical group attended to several hundred people that day. We had brought quilts from my friend Susan Stallings and so Tami Fulgumn, a volunteer from Boise, Idaho, and I set out to distribute those. We also handed out toothbrushes and toothpaste. We also brought some little wooden cars for the boys to play with. Jessica Fulgumn, Tami’s daughter, was the pharmacist for the group. She handed out the medicine as the doctors had prescribed.
Lunch for the medical group is almost always provided by the village we are in. We have learned to be careful and not to expect much. These people had learned to augment their income and their own food source by digging little ponds and raising tolopia. The ponds were pretty dirty but it seemed to work for them. Of course, tolopia was our meal. They had made a stuffing of some sort and had wrapped the fish in banana leaves and steamed it over a fire. It was really quite tasty. We were warned by Washington not to drink the red juice that was provided because it had made the last group quite sick. We stuck to pop.
Now….I have gotten away from the main purpose of the story. As the day began to slip away, we kept worrying about getting the suitcase to its destination. Gordon kept asking Washington about it and finally the Mayor’s driver said that he would take us to the place. So we left the main group and headed out. The pickup had a double cab so Maria and I and the health director were inside. Gordon and Tami felt adventurous and hopped in the back. I knew things would be interesting when instead of turning to go back on a kind of main road, the driver headed in the opposite direction off into the jungle. It was a dirt road and quite bumpy. We went through twists and turns and I thought sure that we were lost. But every once in a while some houses would pop up and there would be a tiny village of sorts. We made several forks in the roads and splashed though several small rivers. I honestly felt like Indiana Jones. In fact we all started to sing the tune. We came upon a large river with a huge bridge made of wooden planks. We had to get out of the truck so it could go across without our additional weight. We then walked across, following the truck. It was pretty exciting. We were surely on an adventure!
We had been gone for some time and I started wondering where we were being taken. Surely this couldn’t be the way back to Tena. More turns and bumps later and the driver pulled up to a little house that was at the side of the road. He asked about the lady we had the delivery for. The old man pointed down the road and then to the left side. We drove about 100 yards forward and then off into a little meadow area. There we saw a two-story partially built house. No walls, just pillars to hold up the second floor. Nothing inside. The man called out the name and a woman came from the distance. We had gotten out of the truck and brought the suitcase.
What happened next was just unbelievable…amazing!! Maria told her that we had a package for her and a suitcase. In the package was money that the Utah family had sent to her. As she opened it she started to sob. She just hugged that package to her breast and cried and cried. She said that she knew at that moment that God knew her and knew where she was. We were all crying as Maria introduced us. Gordon reached over and opened the suitcase. Inside was fabric and thread and other things that she could use for her family or sell for money. Again, she just hugged us and thanked us and kept on crying.
There was a feeling there in that little spot that is hard to describe. It almost seemed holy as the special gift was given and received. I was given a testimony that God DID in fact know who she was and knew her desperate situation and had used the generosity of the Utah family to bless this special daughter, hidden away in the jungle. I felt that we had been blessed to be the delivery system for this beautiful act of love.
The lady introduced us to her little daughter and to her elderly parents. We hugged for the last time and headed back in the truck through the forest. Back across the scary bridge, through the riverbeds, winding back through the jungle to the group we had left. There was silence for a while in the truck as we continued to contemplate the miracle that had occurred. Yes, we had been the UPS for the Lord.