Is It Better In El Guasmo?

Is It Better In El Guasmo?

It looked so innocent on the itinerary.

Go to the farm to experience a day in the life of our hosts, Omar and Lucy. I’ve known them for five years, but this was my first introduction to Americo.

The pride of the farm. One ton of pure bovine muscle.

He was the biggest and scariest bull I have ever stared down. Standing only a few feet away, I was effectively pinned to the corner of the tiny corral. Had Americo done so much as twitch in my direction, my parkour skills would have been on full display with a speed vault over the fence for the ages.

After this harrowing experience I hammered in some staples for fence post wiring. This was all the “work” I could muster in the intense jungle heat. Then we embarked on an exhausting, mud-filled walk back to the village. This experience led me to one unquestionable conclusion: Life is hard here in Santo Domingo de Onzole.

The small, isolated and remote rural village

Located on the Onzole River, Santo Domingo is a small, isolated farming village of 500 people situated in the northern Ecuadorian forest. It has been the main destination and point of contact between participants in The Navigators’ Mission Immersion program and the Afro-Ecuadorian inhabitants over the years. To get there from Canada this past May, our team of five traveled by way of planes (8 hours), an overnight bus ride (11 hours), a pick-up truck (1.5 hours) and motorized canoes (3 hours).

We arrived at the village in rain and darkness, with only a flashlight to guide our large canoe through the potentially propeller-smashing flotsam of the Onzole River.

Because of its isolation, there is no internet in Santo Domingo and the only mechanized machinery they have are chainsaws, motors for the canoes and a workshop running on unreliable power. To get this power, it took community leaders 10 years of petitioning the government to recognize the needs of this people group and string power lines to the village.

But is it better in El Guasmo?

In the face of this poverty and isolation, many of Santo Domingo’s people have chosen to leave for “El Guasmo”, an Afro-Ecuadorian community located in the south end of Ecuador’s capital city, Guayaquil. They do this for a variety of reasons:

If you want higher education… leave.

If you want work other than farming or teaching in the school…. leave.

If you want a more affluent lifestyle…. leave.

If you are young and don’t already have an established farm in the area…. leave.

If you are sick and need anything above very basic medical attention… leave.

However, the repercussions of choosing to stay in Santo Domingo or go to El Guasmo increase greatly when poverty is part of the package.

Those who choose to stay

My friend Omar, on whose farm I met Americo the bull, doesn’t only work on his farm. He also works at the local school. In fact, this is the reality for many of the teachers in Santo Domingo. My respect for them and what they do skyrocketed when I found this out. We had the pleasure of working alongside these incredible people as we taught some English in the classrooms and read with the children at the village community centre. One of these teachers is Mauri. Each of the five times I have been to Santo Domingo she has been a prominent leader, a kind and steady presence. She is one of those who have chosen to stay and invest in the children and future of Santo Domingo.

Those who choose to go

When our time in Santo Domingo came to a close, we said good-bye to Omar, Mauri and the rest of the villagers and departed for Guayaquil and the El Guasmo community. Upon our arrival, we had lunch in the home of Mauri’s two sisters who left Santo Domingo more than 20 years earlier. One of Mauri’s sisters is the housekeeper for relatives of the ex-president of Ecuador. For black people in Guayaquil, it is difficult to rise above the lowest paying jobs such as nannies, housekeepers and labourers. This is their perceived role in society. A middle class is slowly being established but there are many barriers to this. As we listened to Mauri’s sister talk, we learned what it’s like to be poor in Santo Domingo and El Guasmo. In Santo Domingo, she says, you can be poor and still get by without money. With the farms, the fruitful land and the climate, you don’t need much money to get by. It’s much different in the city, she says, where everything revolves around money. The barriers thrown up by racism and lack of opportunity make money the hardest commodity for this community to come by.

As we talked with the people in El Guasmo, there is no consensus about whether Santo Domingo or Guayaquil is better. Some want to go back, while others do not. While many are unemployed, others have found work and are even able to send money back home to their relatives. This can perpetuate the myth that all things are better in El Guasmo amongst the villagers in Santo Domingo.

In both of these places, family and community are strengthened through need and the way it drives people into the arms of one another for support, encouragement and solidarity. The gated and isolated community of the rich in Guayaquil is down the street from El Guasmo, but it might as well be a world away.

Walking in the shoes of another

As Canadians we sought to catch a glimpse of what life is like in both Santo Domingo and El Guasmo. To do this we had to go to certain lengths, including spending money. Some may say this money could have been better spent by putting it directly in the hands of those who need it.

However, if history and experience have taught us anything, it is that the answer to this question is a “both – and”. Money without relationship and understanding often causes more problems than it solves. Voluntourism can make people’s suffering a sideshow and do little actual help in the long run.

But compassionate understanding and solidarity grows as we walk in the shoes of others. This trip was our attempt to do this, and in telling you about it, we hope to raise awareness while we work to come alongside those living in a needy part of the world.

More than a glimpse

One Canadian who has done decidedly more than simply “catching a glimpse” is Carlos Vieira. The last time I was in the village was with Carlos five years ago. Back then his Spanish was marginally better than mine. Back then I played a small role in nursing him back to health after he made the mistake of not wearing a hat in the Ecuadorian sun and got a little heat stroke! Now he is fluent in Spanish and lives in Ecuador, working and living with the people along the Onzole River. He’s been in Ecuador for the past three years and has devoted himself to ministry and the Afro-Ecuadorian people group. What a joy it is to see this transformation in him!

As we journeyed with these people, heard their stories and experienced their reality, we were pushed well beyond our comfort zones. In the midst of this there was also the joy of being together. Here is what my son Zach had to say about his time in Ecuador:

 

Zach McIver

I have returned safe and sound from my Ecuador experience and had an amazing time. We connected well with the young leaders in the rural village of Santo Domingo de Onzole and ran camps for the kids alongside them. It was encouraging to see these teens super-invested in their community and in each other’s development. We even got to travel with some of them to the city of Guayaquil and run programs for the kids there. We experienced the differences between the rural and urban settings in Ecuador and heard stories from people in both. I really connected with the story of one of the young men who had moved from the Onzole community to the city as he told us about all the struggles and temptations he was now finding in the city.

My biggest takeaway was how we as humans all have the same needs and wants, although the way we chase these things may look different. We all need affection, affirmation, love and security. The affection bestowed on us by the kids in the villages was overwhelming at times, but it showed how desperate they are to be loved. We felt their affection affect us because we also crave those same things. Thank you so much for investing in this project. I not only feel I have grown in my understanding of the world, but also in my understanding of myself and God. We helped many kids feel loved, invested in the future leaders of the Onzole River area, and engaged the oppressed Afro-Ecuadorian culture in many different environments, encouraging them that they can be more than others think they can.

Again, thank you,

Zach.

Many people have provided us with resources and encouragement along the way. We strongly feel the international component of the Mission Immersion Project is not the culmination of the experience, but simply a component of learning to engage mission for a lifetime. We will be having a debrief of the entire four-month project to focus on the changes we will make to how we live and work here, now and in the future. We value your prayers in helping us take our learning into the rest of our lives.

Cracked

Cracked

A few rough nights tossing and turning in bed, worries and negative thoughts landing on my pillowed head one after another. Night thoughts so obviously false, but as with unwelcome guests, not taking the hint to buzz off.

My favorite Café on the wrong side of the tracks according to some. Don’t get me wrong this is an upscale café. A rock throwing resident seems bent on changing that. Looking through the cracked window reminds me of how distorted my view of life and the world can be at times… especially during a sleepless night.

My intern Sam Allison and a student named Daniel sit in front of the computer talking with Carlos in Ecuador (my son Zach is not with us being away in Boston). We are partnering with Carlos for the international component of our Mission Immersion Project. Amazed and impressed describes how I feel as Carlos walks through the plan and his dreams for our time there.

 My mind floats back to the last time I was with Carlos in Ecuador over five years ago. We were in an even more remote village than Santo Domingo, seeking to bless and encourage the community initiating a fun camp for their children. We brought a colourful parachute along with us. Giddy children are flinging it up in the air and then running under while holding the edges, forming a momentary hot air balloon type covering that slowly settles on happily screeching children. Standing on the outside of the circle my eye catches sight of Carlos staggering around the building. By the time I arrive he is retching, a victim of the sun’s rays and the somewhat foolish notion that having lived in Africa for a time makes you immune to sun stroke. I become a Gatorade pusher for the next few hours and Carlos was out of commission for a couple days.

This same guy is now advising us to “check our privilege at the door “ as we come into a community that he has invested his life in for the past three years. How the tables have turned as we look to Carlos for leadership while in Ecuador as our host who knows the community and the leaders best. He will be our host and guide as we seek to come alongside five male and five female of the community’s young emerging leaders to learn from, connect and partner with in mission together. He is a living example of the generational impact we are hoping to have through this program. He is a student whose heart (for people), head (understanding of God’s mission), and hands (experience in mission), transformed his life in such a way that once he identified his life mission, he courageously stepped into it and is now guiding the next generation into mission behind him.

If you are inclined to pray or just want to know what kinds of things we will be up to while in Ecuador here is a sampling:

  • Community integration activities
    • Experience a day in the life of a farmer (join them on their farms)
    • Learn Afro Ecuadorian history / meals with families
    • Engaging in mission, discussing, learning and studying mission material with 10 young Afro Ecuadorian leaders from the community
    • Travelling to the city with leaders from the community to run camps and discover what life is like for those who have migrated to the city
    • Run camps for kids

Like the window above, at times I feel cracked and broken but I know I can still open my life to people and by helping them find their life work and mission. Given the opportunity we can all do this in our own unique way.

 

Trespass

Trespass

I am on the wrong side of the law. I am trespassing. How do I find myself doing this? I hope you don’t judge me too harshly. No one pressured or forced me into it. A walk along a Kingston waterfront subdivision on a glorious, sunny Family Day statutory holiday. A park bench with a gorgeous view of semi-frozen lake Ontario beckons me. Who designs a beautiful lakefront park only for subdivision residents anyway? I still would not have slipped through the gap in the fence had it not been for how I had spent my last 48 hours….

  • Walking around downtown Toronto at 12:30pm on a Friday night looking for earplugs while 20 students, working people, and navigator staff bed down for the night.
  • Sleeping on the Sanctuary church floor with the Bloor/Yonge subway rumbling a few feet below at 1:30am after a useless nocturnal earplug search
  • Walking again around downtown Toronto in the middle of the day with a guide to explain the history of power, money, business, and the “Justice” of Bay St.
  • Sending students on a walk around Yonge St. late at night to encounter, understand, and consider the homeless, marginalized, and street involved in the city.
  • Eating an Eritrean lunch cooked by a woman who will be speaking to an immigration officer the next day to find out if she will be able to claim sanctuary in Canada on humanitarian grounds or be deported. She has no documentation at all, having fled her war torn country.
  • Hearing a woman open her life and heart to us with a tale of verbal abuse, drugs, beatings, hope for the future, and gratefulness for the loving kindness she has received at Sanctuary Church sanctuarytoronto.ca
  • Finding a drug store with earplugs.

One entire weekend observing, listening, talking, walking, reading, discussing. This is what it means to engage Urban Mission in our Mission Immersion program www.navigators.ca/mission-immersion/. We were three mission pods from Waterloo, Kingston, and Ottawa learning to live missionally together.

A day later and back in Kingston I walk along  the shore of lake Ontario past the no trespass sign reflecting our experience together. As I think about the homeless and street involved people of Toronto and those in the city I see before me I wonder what it is like to be looked upon with suspicion and mistrust. What would it be like to be ignored and never amongst family and friends on any day let alone “Family Day”?! My sunny day musings feel hopelessly removed from the tragic reality many people face. Perhaps relationship, awareness, and reflection can be a starting point for understanding and action. Shoot, somebody’s coming…. I better get outta here.

She began to weep quietly…

She began to weep quietly…

She began to weep quietly, pulling her hijab over her brow, her head bent, staring at the table. Her husband looked pensive, stoic, leaning towards us. My friend quietly stood up from the table and got a kleenex for her, his eyes glistening. They had just been in Canada a few weeks and she was recounting how an ISIS leader had put a gun to her son’s head when he refused to join them.

How did a group of “older” (forgive me guys, I’m used to working with students) Canadian dudes find themselves amid 40 Syrian families having a potluck dinner in Kingston? Syrians and Canadians experiencing the year’s first snowfall together. The preciptation tapping gently on the Health Centre’s windows.

After monthly breakfasts, reading together the book of James in the Bible, a few chapters of “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” and “Surprise The World”, it was definitely time for our little men’s group to do something missional… but what? The answer it turned out to be staring us in the face. My friend Steve was the last person to join our little breakfast devouring troop. He just “happened” to be an immigrant services worker who just “happened” to be starting a Syrian men’s group himself.

But what could we do? We don’t even speak the language. We took a very informal inventory of what we could offer. Well… we all had houses, we all had cars, we all had BBQ’s…. we had a bit of time anyway. And we all knew Kingston and the surrounding region pretty well. It wasn’t exactly rocket-science to figure out that we could all go for a hike together. With a little tip from Steve about halal chicken, we even managed to have lunch after at the McIvers after.

What else could we do? Steve mentioned a Syrian Potluck he was hosting. Again, what could we offer? We all have cars, ovens to cook food in (we picked up some families from a hotel in Kingston they were living in, which have no ovens), and of course we have a little time. That’s how my friends and I found ourselves amid 40 Syrian families, some law students from Queen’s, some Navigator students, 6 interpreters, and some staff from the Health Centre.

It didn’t take much really. But I am ashamed to admit that I felt thoroughly sorry for myself at 3:30pm on that Sunday afternoon wishing I didn’t have to go. I’d prefer to stay at home like a lazy dog by the fire in the dark days of November. Imagine the perspective change I had in the course of a few short hours, and how enriched I felt as a human being after connecting with these courageous and deeply wounded people, seeing the appreciation in their eyes as well as the pain and sorrow.

As usual the best lessons in life are not a one-time happening, they are learned over and over again. It is not always wrong to stretch out like a peacefully composed canine, but knowing when God is calling you to become more like an avalanche rescue dog is the trick.

As Richard Rohr so aptly says:

“We do what we are called to do, and then try to let go of the consequences.”

I love this because it speaks both to our outward actions and our inner state of being. To both act and then to let it go. This I find very difficult to do. What about you?

Too busy to see me eh?

Too busy to see me eh?

You would think your birthday month would be your favorite one of the year. To be honest, while November starts off with a birthday bash for me (or at least a nice dinner) on November 3rd, it quickly becomes tough slogging. It could be due to the darkening, shorter and colder days. For university students, I know it’s not near enough the end of the term to begin leaning towards the tape. Instead of looking to a glorious victory, for many students it’s a time when their bad work habits catch up with them. Sam, our Kingston Navigator intern, is experiencing all of this for the first time from a staff perspective. He was telling me how hard it is now to book times with individuals who are stressed and “unavailable”. I always find this to be hard on the morale but over the last 20+ years of ministry, I have devised some ways to sidestep this difficult dynamic.

Some friends of mine have joked that I have the world’s smallest laptop and the world’s biggest phone. For those of you who are technically inclined, I have a MacBook computer and a Blackberry phone. I know, I know…. I have just put my foot into a pile of scorn from a vast majority of the population one way or another.

My office is a Thule briefcase bag and I am constantly on the move, which in Kingston means walking or biking from one place to another. I am always searching for the best place to plunk myself down to “get stuff done”. While I do that I want to be in places and spaces where people I am involved with in ministry frequent or pass through. Many generous people give from the fruit of their hard work so I can be where the next generation of leaders are in order to come alongside them, challenge them and lead them in mission.

After sharing the “strategic seating” ministry tip with Sam, I received an email from a student I have been trying to get together with all term in order to explain our Mission Immersion project.

I met this person on campus and sure enough, the student Sam was having trouble tracking down walked by. He turned and sat down beside us for a chat. I heard how he’s doing and why he’s missed the last couple of meetings with our group. I was able to recommend him to our “First Thing First” mentoring guide that helps identify priorities, values and mission, to put into your schedule. The idea is to talk this through with a mentor who helps keep you accountable to do what you set out to do by following through on what you say is important in your life.

I can’t tell you how many times simply putting yourself in the right place translated into meaningful ministry opportunities over the years. It has become a legitimate ministry strategy. For example, Sam works out at the Queen’s gym attached to the student life centre specifically to be near the hockey team while they train in order to gain relational momentum through connecting with the guys occasionally there. While I was writing this story Sam excitedly told me of bumping into two people from his hometown while working out at the student life centre and the possibility for ministry opening up as a result.

So how did the planned meeting about our Mission Immersion project go, you wonder (I do actually plan some things)? You know the type of person who exudes energy and enthusiasm wherever they go? The ones with the classic megawatt smile that light up a room? I was now sitting across from one of these types in the entrance to the main engineering building on campus at Queen’s. She shared with me where she was at, what she was thinking, what she was dreaming about and where she was looking to go in the future. As I sat there listening I was overwhelmed with the many ideas, connections and avenues for learning and growth that were popping into my head.

So much so that when she finished speaking I didn’t know how to start. I had way too much to talk about, show her, and offer by ways of material, mentoring, suggestions, etc. I had three websites to show her, right off the bat related to our work in Kingston. I couldn’t help but think that this is exactly the kind of person this project was designed for. It was so encouraging and exciting because, to be honest, I was feeling a bit of the November blues ® (an original Dan McIver-ism)

If you, my reader friend, care to explore these websites, I would love for you to see them. Feel free to email me to talk about any of these and to hear about our work and/connection to the people and places they represent.

This was a day that turned from a bit of a bummer to one full of excitement and possibility. Working in full-time ministry, like any profession or lifestyle, is full of ups and downs. Finding meaning and making a difference is what keeps us going, and we need God and others to help us see it. I am thankful for all the wonderful people God has placed in my life to help me to do that. And I hope he will use me in the lives of others. Maybe we can even encourage each other to “never tire in doing good”, and to find the deeper meaning in our lives and work

Moving Mountains

Moving Mountains

National Navigator Conference

After sleeping on a concrete floor in Ecuador, or on a wooden floor above the Bloor/Yonge subway line in Toronto at Sanctuary Church, I don’t anticipate falling asleep to be the challenge at our national Navigator conference at the Blue Mountain Resort in Collingwood. The challenge for me will be more around doing right by the various relationships I have in my different Navigator roles.

I would value your prayers for Sue and I and our whole Navigator work at this important time in our history. We have undergone a lot of change in the last couple of years since our time together in Whistler. Exciting change but change none-the-less.

I would specifically ask for those of you who are inclined to pray to do so for the following:

  • I will have a small role during the conference as a prayer partner for conference participants in the prayer room on two separate days.
  • That my workshop entitled “Being Discipled while Helping Others” will encourage, inspire, and provide people with a pathway to make a tangible difference in society while discipling the next generation of christian leadership.

In my role of Kingston City Leader please pray for:

  • The young leaders helping me with my workshop: Nick, Katelynn, and Evan. Please pray that they would grow and be inspired through this conference and their involvement in leading this workshop.
  • For Kingston Associate Staff Peter Sheahan as he is one of the key people organizing the Young Leaders Pre-conference.
  • Sue will be at this conference with me and our son Cameron will be helping to take care of the children.  Recent Queen’s grad, Sarah, and the former youth group leader at our church, Candice, will be coming as well

 In my role as Coach of Calgary and Edmonton ministries:

  • Please pray for my interactions and investment in the staff and participants from both Calgary and Edmonton while at this conference.
  • One couple from Edmonton came to Canada from Syria as refugees. They were serving as full-time Navigator staff in Syria and are looking into the process of becoming Canadian Navigator staff  in order to minister to Syrians in Edmonton

One level of interaction I will not be involved with at this conference in the same way as the last one is in national leadership. The change in leadership after the last national conference in Whistler, B.C. has given me the opportunity to focus more on Kingston and I love my role of city coach for Calgary and Edmonton. I miss being with my team-mates on the national leadership team but I don’t begrudge trading some hours in meetings for grass-roots involvement. I will be going up early to be a part of the staff development pre-conference day and staying through to the end spanning June 8 – 13.

Please pray that I would be able to encourage my fellow labourers in the various roles I serve in. If you are curious about the conference itself you can check it out at http://navigators.ca/advance

Sincerely,

Dan McIver
The Navigators of Canada

    Dan and Hippo at Queen’s

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Hippo and I were comfortably sitting at the Grad Club at Queen’s over lunch a year ago when he told me this. Surreal is a good word to describe how it felt to hear this over lunch.

“ The soldiers came looking for my dad. He ran out the back door and got away. They took my mother to the police station for questioning and released her that afternoon. As soon as she returned, my mother and sister and I packed up and fled to Malawi.”

An immigrant moves to a new country due to pull factors… a job, economic advancement, a better life and more opportunities for their children. A refugee, on the other hand, leaves their homeland because of push factors. They are pushed out and displaced by violence or persecution. But that is not their whole identity and how they want to be view and labelled.That’s why my Rwandan friend has a bit of an issue with the refugee team at the Olympics. He can see ahead for those young people being stuck with that label for a long time afterwards. He sees this from a different lense than the typical north American.

“Why don’t we make and celebrate progress in eliminating what causes people to become refugees instead of celebrating the creation a refugee team at the olympics.”
  
I have heard is said that your view is determined by where you are standing. I find this to be very true.

At the request of the Calgary Navigators, Sue travelled with me to Calgary and Edmonton in July to help encourage, shepherd, and coach the staff/ministries in Calgary and Edmonton. During our trip were honored to meet the former Navigator country leaders for South Sudan, and for Syrian and Lebanon.

What an amazing opportunity we have to bless, encourage, and help new Canadians in the cities we find ourselves in. Our Navigator staff Paul Tan in Edmonton came to Canada from Singapore many years ago and to see the way he has embraced this challenge in Edmonton was very inspiring for Sue and me.

We know that we all can’t drop everything we are doing and come to people’s rescue, and so we need team. As navigators we have our eyes wide open to the possibilities this brings for doing real good in our cities and sharing our lives and faith with people from around the world. Personally, as I think/pray/plan for this coming ministry year, I see great synergies between discipling our young and emerging leaders in Kingston while engaging those who are new to our country and our fair city of Kingston. I would appreciate your prayers for us at this time as we discern what is strategic, what is the will of God, and what we are excited to do.

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  Who left Dan in Charge of the Selfie?