November 14, 2014

They didn't feed 5,000 people, but members of the Fremont Church saw a miracle nonetheless.

It happened on a mission trip in Ecuador. The Rev. Tom Shaw, his wife, Becky, and 10 parishioners had gone to the South American country to show the film "The Story of Jesus for Children" in Spanish.

During the trip, group members were asked to erect a pre-fab church building on a portion of a cleared-out jungle area. Mission team members had brought enough food for about 15 people.

"But then there was about 30 or 40 Ecuadorians around and we thought, ‘We can't eat in front of them,' so we shared and there was enough and with leftovers — just like the miracle," said team member Patty Smith, referring to the Bible story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people.

It was just one of the miracles that team members said they witnessed during a memory-making fall trip.

One of the first miracles occurred in a South American airport. Team members were concerned about questions they might get in the foreign airport or that some of the new equipment — such as a projector, sound system, screen and portable generators — might be confiscated, thus thwarting their plans to show the 60-minute Gospel film.

That didn't happen.

"We were getting ready to go through customs and the man flagged us through without checking any bags. We walked through without being processed basically," said team member Kathy Johnson, noting that doesn't often occur.

Team members later were taken to a Work and Witness site where they stayed.

The next morning they worshiped in Spanish with their Ecuadorian brothers and sisters in Christ.

"Their hospitality could not have been more warm or more genuine," said team member Mary Trehearn. "They were really very loving."

Shaw gave the sermon, which was translated into Spanish.

"I think they were moved by his message," Trehearn said. "I think they were excited to have us there."

Group members distributed bracelets that team member Amber Hurlbert made, along with bouncy balls.

Team members were taken on winding mountain roads to a camp at Santo Domingo. They first showed the Jesus film in the middle of a dirt road.

About 100 Ecuadorians sat on the rocky road to watch the film.

"I marveled that they would sit on something that uncomfortable and watch with rapt attention," Trehearn said.

Afterward, attendees were invited to give their lives to Christ. Children and adults raised their hands to do so.

Trehearn said she was thankful to be part of that.

"Pastor gave us an image that I will never forget. As he was watching the hands go up, he was visualizing God writing the names of each of those people in the Lamb's Book of Life," she said.

That Monday, team members went to the home of a woman who was starting a church. About 70 children and youth arrived. Team member Matthew DePue made balloon animals. Some team members painted the children's and women's fingernails. Other members played soccer with the children.

During the film, shown that night, children piled into the team members' laps. The children watched the Jesus film even though it rained periodically.

The next day, team members went to a jungle clearing, where the property owner had donated land for a church.

Team members began working on the church and then the Ecuadorians started helping. The Ecuadorians finished the project, which was completed in about five hours.

"They were so excited that they actually bought their own sign for the church and had that put up by the time the church was finished," DePue said.

The miracle of multiplying sandwiches took place during this project. As team members shared, they found they had more than enough food — similar to the Bible story.

"There just kept being more sandwiches," Arlan Trehearn said.

"We even had some left over," DePue said.

During the church's construction, team member and cosmetologist Carry Gerke cut women's hair. Other team members painted little girls' fingernails. There was face painting, more balloon animals and soccer playing.

Mary Trehearn said a panoramic view of all the activities and the church building was something to see.

"It was a beautiful picture," Smith agreed.

"I know God looked down and smiled and said ‘Look at my children working together' and language wasn't a barrier," Mary Trehearn said.

Team members previously wondered how they would communicate with the Ecuadorians; only team member Lindy Smith knows Spanish. And yet smiles, charades and a few words from high school Spanish classes helped the team.

"Love is a universal language," Mary Trehearn said. "It just got us through. It was awesome."

After the church construction was complete, the group showed the 60-minute Jesus movie in the middle of the jungle.

"That night, they said there were more monkeys watching the film than there were people," Arlan Trehearn said, as other team members chuckled.

Thursday was a time of sight-seeing and shopping. Team members took a cable car up a mountain to an approximately 14,000-foot elevation.

"We were above the clouds," Johnson said.

Missionaries at Quito gave gifts, like little clay pots, to team members. DePue got a clay turtle as a reminder of the balloon animals he made — and as encouragement to keep sticking his neck out for Christ.

Team members brought back good memories.

"It was a great experience to be a part of a culture different than what I'm used to, and to be so loved and accepted by the people who made me feel so welcome," Hurlbert said. "And, of course, witnessing children and adults give their lives to Christ through the Jesus film, it was just all around an unforgettable experience."

Mary Trehearn shared her own insights.

"I learned that the people who we came to teach about Jesus — the pre-believers — they acted more like Jesus than sometimes I do and that's humbling to have to admit, but they did," she said. "They were more welcoming, more gracious, more loving than sometimes I am. It was a good lesson to learn ... We came to show them about Jesus and, really, they showed me about Jesus."

Written by Tammy Real-McKeighan
Fremont Tribune
November 2014