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Watauga County residents James Lawrence and Ronnie Hayes work to repair a roof during their
2012 mission trip to Ecuador.

Originally published: 2013-05-20 11:26:25
Last modified: 2013-05-20 11:28:28

Local youth group eager for mission to Ecuador

by Sherrie Norris

South-America bound: That's the plan for 11 missions-minded people and their leaders from Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Zionville who will be making their fifth trip to Ecuador in June to help build, restore and reach out to others less fortunate than themselves. 

It's become an annual journey to the village of Patate located in the Andes Mountains near the city of Ambato for the youth group -- simply to show the love of Jesus in action, said group leader Jackie Lawrence.

They will be staying at Camp Chacauco, a youth and sports ministry camp since 2001 with a recently added seminary.

"It was built by Global Outreach missionaries and Texas natives Steve and Carol Thompson originally as a retreat center for pastors," Lawrence said.

During their earlier trips, the Pleasant Grove group has helped with construction and repair needs at the camp and nearby schools and led Vacation Bible School for the village children. 

Last year, 350 children attended VBS at the church in Apatug, "where Steve is the pastor," Lawrence said.

"We are really getting excited about going back this year," Lawrence said. "It's going to be a great experience for all of us, but especially for the five on our team who have never been out of the country -- or even on a mission trip."

During the week of June 21-30, the group will divide its time between "working in the jungle" and conducting two separate distributions of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

Lawrence said the OCC project is "especially exciting."

Offering support to the Thompsons while nurturing the friendships they've formed with the couple and their church family is a "big part" of their journey, Lawrence said.

"Steven and Carol moved to Ecuador in 1987 to serve as missionaries with the International Mission Board," Lawrence said. "Over the years, they have been involved in various forms of ministry and outreach in Ecuador, all with a primary focus of evangelism, church planting and church development."

For more than two decades, the couple has remained faithful to their calling in Ecuador through their work with local believers and pastors to spread the gospel through conferences, vacation Bible schools and youth retreats, Lawrence said. 

"They also hold pastor-training classes and worship conferences to help strengthen and build up the local church," said Lawrence.

But building up is not always easy: The Thompsons -- and their church -- have not gone without persecution.

"When they first started the church, in the late '80s and early '90s, there were no Christians in that area," Lawrence said. 

"Eleven people in the village heard about a 'folk music concert' in a neighboring community and decided to attend. Upon arriving, they discovered that the concert featured Christian music and all 11 became Christians that day."  

Upon returning to their village with their "good news," the new converts became victims of persecution as they started meeting together, Lawrence said. "They spent an entire night at the home of Benedicto, a man who has become our friend, while the community surrounded the home. In the morning, the house was torn down and the 11 inside were beaten, stripped naked and marched up a hill in humiliation."

Despite the treatment, the group remained faithful and continued meeting. 

"That is how the church in Apatug was begun," Lawrence said. "The community accepts them now. They no longer face such persecution. They are dedicated believers and 75-100 people attend the church, where Benedicto is now one of the main leaders."

Camp Chacauco is the Thompsons' second camp.

The other, "more rustic one," Lawrence said, "is in the jungle, where we will be doing a lot of our work this time. We will be working with children there who sometimes walk for hours out of the jungle to come to camps and VBS. The two camps are about four hours apart, so we will be doing a lot of traveling while we're there." 

Jennifer Rominger, who served as an intern with the Thompsons two years ago, is making her fourth return visit to Ecuador with her church team. 

"Going to Ecuador, in general, provides a great way of experiencing different ways of thinking about life," Rominger said. "As much as we try to help and teach the Ecuadorians, I learn so much more from them."

"Jennifer has been to the jungle camp, but it will be the first time for the rest of us," Lawrence said. Anticipating her first mission trip, DeRhonda Ellis said:  "I am really excited and looking forward to going to Ecuador and working with the children there. I am also very excited to see how God will change us as a result of this trip."

"It's a blessing," Lawrence said, to be involved in Ecuador mission work. "It's not about us. Any praise or glory belongs to God. Our purpose, as Christians, is to share Jesus and that's just what we want to do."

The youth group has worked hard to raise the money required for the trip, but additional funds are needed due to rising costs for travel and supplies.

"Prayer is the most important thing we could ask for," Lawrence said, "but all donations are appreciated and will be put to good use."  

On Wednesday, Lawrence received "a long list of supplies" that the group has been asked to bring. "The supplies are expensive as well as the extra baggage fees to take them," she said. "But God will take care of it all."