The last couple of weeks saw a bit of a change of scenery and an adventure for us. We headed up to Guayaquil in Ecuador. Although Quito is the capital Guayaquil is the largest city (2.7 million people). It sits on the Pacific coast just 2 degrees south of the equator. Not surprisingly it was very hot and humid, but verdant green with lush tropical vegetation. When we travelled into the countryside many fields were under water (growing rice). Overall it had the feel (and smell) of Darwin in the wet season. We found the city a bit more Americanised with various large shopping malls (expensive for the locals) and Ecuador even uses American dollars as their currency. The traffic was busy and crowded, but not as bad as Lima, which was a nice change. We were quickly reminded of it when we survived the “death dash” from the airport back to what is now our home in Lima.
Upon arriving at the airport in Guayaquil we were lining up to go through immigration when over the speakers came the great Australian anthem “We come from the land Down Under…”. We looked at each other and both thought “they are playing our song” to welcome us. We even heard cheering and clapping just around the corner where people exit from customs. We had to make a brief pitstop before exiting by which time all the people had dispersed. It seems they were welcoming a professional soccer player who had been transferred to one of their local clubs, not us.
So, why were we in Guayaquil? There are three missions of the Church, or about 600 missionaries, among many members (about 22 stakes and one temple). Craig did some mental health training across the three missions, one each day. This consisted of one or two presentations each day to groups of missionaries about how they can be self-reliant about their own mental health, just as they should be with their physical health. Lesley introduced us and even shared some thoughts and feelings in simple (but improving) Spanish. The mission presidents also asked Craig to see several missionaries individually whilst there.
We enjoyed staying with one of the mission presidents and his wife in their lovely apartment (and nicely cool with air-conditioning too). We spent time with each of the presidents and their wives, getting to know them a bit more personally than just a voice at the end of a phone, or by email. Becoming friends with new people is a great part of this experience. We also enjoyed rain one afternoon, proper rain, for the first time in 8 months.
We also saw many interesting things, including the famous park downtown that is heavily populated by green iguanas, those famous dinosaur-like looking lizards that populate this part of the world (but not as far south as Lima). We watched as children patted them and Lesley was even brave enough to pat a few as well (Craig couldn’t of course because he had to take the photos). One lizard even tried to eat the green dress of a local woman, thinking it looked like lettuce.
We spent some time walking up a couple of hills downtown, admiring the painted houses, small alleyways, and the 444 steps up (and down) to the lighthouse. We stopped periodically to rest, cool down, replace the fluid pouring out of us in sweat, and admire the views.
One afternoon we drove a couple of hours out of Guayaqil to visit with a large group of missionaries. We enjoyed the change of scenery with cows and cowboys coming down one lane of the main highway at one point that delayed us a bit. There was another delay as a truck rolled over down the side of the road. We experienced what it is like overtaking slower cars at night when not all the oncoming traffic has their headlights on! We saw many of the small houses on stilts built out of sugar cane that is farmed in the area.
There is one special story, a “coincidence”, that we need to share. One afternoon whilst seeing some missionariesa young male missionary came into the room who we will call Elder Jones (not his real name). He is going home in a few months and has some concerns and anxieties about life after his mission. Earlier in the day during the group training Lesley made reference to Craig having served in theItaly Rome Mission when younger. At the start of the interview Elder Jones asked what years those were (1979-80). It turns out his father served there, at the same time. Upon hearing this Craig remembered him immediately. In recent weeks he has been reading his missionary journal from that time (which he had never done all the way through before). He had just been reading about his time in Nuoro (a city on the island of Sardinia). He spent some time with Elder Jones Sr, the zone leader, who was in the city as part of the dedication of the city for missionary work as it had never had missionaries before. He recorded some of the experiences they had together, including a pizza they shared at the end of the day.
Later young Elder Jones emailed his father to tell him about this meeting and Craig received an email from his dad….”Hello mate!! It's Anziano [Jones], a voice from the past. I remember you well… I want to thank you for visiting with my son. I am grateful that he is desirous to come to terms with some issues that have troubled him. It is so interesting that I felt a prompting to counsel him to talk to his mission president about any and every health concern that he might be having…Thanks again for working with my son…”
A week later Craig received an email from young Elder Jones. “Incredible coincidence! My father [told me that] you were an incredible example and role model for him! Our brief yet powerful interview changed my life. I’m convinced that coincidences don't exist ..... and I know you can personally help me with my difficulties.”
It reminded us also of how the Lord is involved in the details of our lives. We felt prompted to come on amission at this time in our lives and we just happened to be in Guayaquil, that week, when this elder needed some help, 37 years after Craig served with his father half a world away on a rocky island in the Mediterranean.
After an exciting week we settled back into our normal routine this week, although Craig was busy catching up on things he didn’t do whilst away and Lesley prepared for the resumption of her piano lessons with her students this coming week.