A unique walk started earlier in January 2023, and the journey has not stopped for Rev. Jen Lessard, pastor of York Baptist Church (NY). Pastor Jen has traveled and connected hearts from York Baptist Church to hearts from Sinchi Warmi women of Rio Blanco in Ecuador. May you be encouraged by what she shares with us:
“Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment?” ~ Amos 3:3 NRSVue
“Give me three compelling good reasons not to go!” My adult daughter challenged me. I was given an opportunity to go on a group immersion experience to Ecuador and I was looking for someone to talk me out of it. After all, I knew very little Spanish and had traveled very little. It took a great deal of prayer to discern what to do.
In January 2023, given that I could not come up with one good reason, let alone three, I embarked on the two-week immersion to Ecuador with an amazing group of individuals, including experienced global servants from International Ministries, paired up with members of RECONPAZ (the Continental Christian Network for Peace). We learned from indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest and the Andes’ paramos. They welcomed us into their lives, into their homes, and into their ongoing struggles to protect their lands from corporate extractivism.
During the trip, members of RECONPAZ Eloy Alfaro and IM Global Servant Ricardo Mayol, began planning a visit to come to meet the faith community of our ABCRGR region. Eloy Alfaro visited at the beginning of March and spoke to York Baptist Church in Western New York, where I serve as pastor. He spoke in more detail about Elizabeth Durazno, the leader of the Sinchi Warmi women of Rio Blanco, and how she is leading efforts to rehabilitate their homeland in the Andes after decades of predatory gold mining. He also presented a letter of invitation from the Sinchi Warmi women to be siblings in common purpose. York Baptist Church received this invite with both solidarity and curious hearts.
It appears that God was not finished with my part of the story. I kept dreaming nonstop about the mountains, my heart affixed on the mist and paramos. I kept thinking about the daily struggles of the Sinchi Warmi women and Elizabeth, their leader. Her love for Mother Earth, the agape type of love that we hear in 1 Corinthians 13, stuck with me.
On March 18th, a deadly earthquake hit the area where Rio Blanco is. I began checking in with Elizabeth online and this became a chaplaincy for me. A member of their resistance had died in a collapse, and she and the community were grieving. They needed prayers and assurance that they have Christian siblings that care about them and their families. I knew I had to return physically to Elizabeth, to the Sinchi Warmi, and to the mountain at Rio Blanco, and did so twice more this year. In May, I planted with students at Cuenca University in a reforestation effort.
In June, I brought the prayers and support of York Baptist as one of Rio Blanco’s youngest members was baptized. I am now known as “madrina” (godmother) in this community.
The writings of the prophet Amos ask, “Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment?” Our small rural church sent a diplomatic letter with me to Ecuador in May, pledging a siblinghood, support and solidarity, a relationship we have since come to know as “walking together.” The “walking together” shared between York Baptist and the Sinchi Warmi, the type which Amos is speaking of, is a mutual agreement, a yoking of sorts. I feel that to be able to facilitate and be part of such a relationship is a humbling honor and a gift from God. I return to Ecuador at the end of October on another reforestation trip, and to meet another nearby community in Otavalo. This time I am grateful to say that I go with International Ministries’ Short-Term Mission desk as a support resource and the encouragement of God’s Spirit. For more about the “Walking Together” program at York Baptist Church, please see the link to our newsletter below. To subscribe, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.