Service, Pandemics, and “El Refugio”

What is “Service”.  The concept of service in a North American context generally revolves around productivity.  In our lead-up to service with the current Ecuador SST group, we spoke at length about what service is and is not in a global context.  A short synopsis is as follows:

Service = Relationship

Service = Challenge

Service = Self-Reflection

Service = Listening

Service does not Equal Productivity

To really serve others well the focus needs to remain entirely on the person(s) being served and that focus must be on deepening relationships with them.  Without relationship one cannot truly know how best to serve another.  That is true of service on SST, serving your spouse and family members, and being a servant leader in any other context.  Students were able to begin to live that ideal of service out in their shortened time of service here in Ecuador.

SST at its core is about discovering who we are as human beings on this planet and how we can be more caring, loving, and healthy stewards of our lives in the years to come.  It is about finding meaning in relationships, becoming more aware of global issues, and recognizing the interconnectedness of the global human community.  SST plants these seeds in students with the hope that those seeds will continue to bear fruit in the years to come as students return to their “normal” patterns back at home.

That brings us to this day and this moment in time where we are all confronted with the Coronavirus global pandemic.  The irony is that the “normal” that students are currently trying to return to is anything but normal.  In many ways, the seeds that SST plants regarding relationships, humanity, and community will be required to bear immediate fruit upon students’ return to their homes.  We have joked that they have a head start over many in their home country in terms of uncertainty training.  SST strips away the illusion of control over one’s circumstances and requires students to find ways to cope with uncertainty.  Their friends and family back home are currently being forced into that same reality due to the undesirable phenomena of the coronavirus pandemic.

As we write this blog students are living in a reality here in Ecuador of their time of service having been cut short by the sudden and rapid global changes brought on by the pandemic.  This past weekend as travel restrictions were announced by the Ecuadorian government, students were abruptly uprooted from their homes in eight Ecuadorian provinces and most were returned to Quito within a 24 hour period.  It was a shocking and jarring experience.  Twenty-four hours after their return to Quito we arrived at a retreat center north of Quito named “El Refugio” (The Refuge).  Literally within minutes of our arrival at the retreat center, additional travel restrictions were announced by the Ecuadorian government which made departure from the country and movement within the country incredibly difficult.

As we all process here the reality of our lack of control over the coming days and when our return home will be, we have again been reminded of the need to put into practice the training for uncertainty we have been walking through together on SST.  It is an incredible gift to be here at El Refugio in this time as it is literally our place of refuge from the turmoil in our world in this moment.  We will use the coming days to continue to process ways in which our faith, family, and relationships are our grounding and centering elements and to find a new “normal” to walk into with each other.  Thank you for your words of encouragement, prayers, and support for all of us in this unique and unprecedented time in our world.  God has been good to us and we have seen the work of the Holy Spirit guiding, carrying, and shepherding us through.

To follow are a collage of photos of service visits, service families, service pets, service landscapes, and at the end our return to Quito and time at El Refugio.