In October, eleven Mission Thrift Store volunteers from across Canada travelled to Ecuador with Bible League Canada to see the impact their volunteering is making in the communities of a country far different from Canada.

We began as strangers to each other, but we had so much in common — our faith in God, volunteering at our local Mission Thrift Store, our connection to Bible League Canada and our desire to see God at work in Ecuador. We ended as a family, encouraging each other, caring and praying for each other and for those whom we met along the way.

Our first assignment, received at the airport: ENCOURAGE! Encourage the church planters and ministry leaders, and encourage the new believers.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Romans 1:11-12 (NIV)

Our travels in Ecuador took us to many different ministry locations. We met so many humble people — men, women and children who love God and want to share Him with their family, friends and neighbours.

On our first Sunday we drove to several rural communities where nine new churches started worshipping during the past year. In one of the villages, we watched as three new believers received baptism in the river running past their homes. We joined them as they celebrated communion for the very first time, a very moving experience for everyone involved. It was so exciting to see these new Christians beaming with peace and joy.

“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…” This children’s song is alive, and resonating within the hearts of the Ecuadorian pastors and church workers we met. Church planters LOVE the children and so often new churches begin with precious children.

We visited an elementary school where the principal and two other staff members teach “value lessons” about Jesus Christ and His love for them. The principal knew the children were struggling to cope in the wake of a recent tragedy involving a student who had committed suicide. They also equipped each student with their very own Bible.

There was one amazing moment when we walked into the home of a church member in Portoviejo. A group of teenagers were in the middle of a Bible study. They sat in a circle with their Bibles open, reading and studying the Word. It was a most beautiful sight! We realized how much it meant for them to attend the Bible lessons when we heard that they have to pass a gang of older boys who attack and bully them while they try to get to the meeting place.

One of the girls, 15 years old, told us about her life at home where her father yells at her and beats her, and her mother stays silent. Yet this young girl prays that one day her father will soften his heart and they will come to know Jesus just like her.

The role of a church planter is not an easy task — but God blesses and gives each one the strength and boldness that our Lord supplies to those who faithfully answer His call on their lives. We were deeply touched and blessed as we spent time hearing their stories and encouraging them. Our mutual love for Jesus Christ provided an amazing connection with every ministry worker we met. It is a joy to return home to share with fellow volunteers and our great communities just how valuable and impactful this work is around the world.

We witnessed first-hand that the work we do in our Mission Thrift Stores and the money raised and donated to Bible League Canada is being used to glorify God in inspiring and meaningful ways. When we set out for Ecuador, we hoped to encourage those whom we met… but we departed encouraged ourselves.