Today bishops and spouses and partners fanned out across the country: some made a 4.5 hour bus trip to the border to witness the struggles of Columbians seeking refuge in Ecuador. Another group went to Ibarra, visiting a church community there and a huge market of indigenous crafts and arts.
I was part of a group that stayed in Quito, but journeyed a long distance in culture and economics, to Sector Comité del Pueblo, a community of poor and working class people who squatted some thirty years ago on a large swath of a valley that absentee landowners had left fallow. They finally had recognized land rights, and have created a vibrant community, which has a wonderful Episcopal mission in it, Mission Cristo Libertador, Christ the Liberator.
One friend, a bishop I’ve known for many years, said, as we got out of the bus and stepped onto the street in the barrio, “It smells like the Old City of Jerusalem, or really any street in the developing world, there are a lot of things that tie them together.” Other things that are the same: many children on the street.
We entered the mission church through a door right off the street, and immediately I was filled with emotions as the aisle was lined with men and women and children greeting us. There welcome was so warm, their faces so beautiful, and open. I felt immediately at home, one of the truest homes I’ve ever known, the Episcopal Church, everywhere different, everywhere the same, knit together in Christ.
The plan was for us to be in the mission church for Morning Prayer, then join the senior citizens for a simple breakfast, and then walk a few blocks to a day care center run by the church.
Some highlights: The opening song had this refrain: “May we always have hearts without doors; may we always have open hands.” Immediately I remembered what I learned this past spring about the Guarani people, they call themselves the people with open hands. What that means is that as they receive something – money, material possessions, emotional investment, ideas – they are thinking about how they can enhance the gift, and pass it on.
The Guarani, through several centuries of experience with colonizing Western culture have learned to call us the people of the closed hands; people who immediately invest energy in how to hold onto possessions of all kinds.
These people were not the Guarani, but there were many indigenous people there, or Creole people, or people who held the same values as the Guarani. I wondered how our economy, our very lives would be transformed if we adopted this way of looking at the world.
Also, in this time after worship, the senior warden came forward to speak. A woman who has been active in this congregation for twenty years, she both welcomed us warmly and spoke passionately about an acute, wide-spread conflict in the Diocese of Ecuador Central. What struck me most in her talk was this; “We have learned how to struggle from our parents. We love the Episcopal Church and we will struggle for it.” Her parents’ courage and perseverance were lessons she had absorbed, and the lessons of their strength were learned and enacted by her and her generation. I suddenly felt some confidence about how this conflict would resolve in Ecuador – with “winning” by these people of modest material resources, but winning as Christ wins, with the weapons of the Spirit, in this case with hearts without doors and hands always open.