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Beyond Ourselves was recently featured in Save Our World magazine.
See the text from the article below.

FINDING GOLD IN ECUADOR

It was dark as we drove up to the stoplight at the large intersection. Up ahead we could see children in the street begging money from drivers as they waited for the light to turn green. Although not an unusual sight in countries outside of the United States, there was something that caught our attention about these children. As we got closer, we saw a strange sight. These kids, in an attempt to draw attention to themselves, had painted their entire bodies and even their faces with gold paint!

We were in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador in northwestern South America. Guayaquil, a city of two million people, is the largest city in Ecuador. Although the country does have its share of rich people, 65% of all Ecuadorians live in extreme poverty. Many of these who live in such poverty suffer from malnutrition and undernourishment and many are forced to live on the street.

Some of these “street children” are actual orphans; others have some contact with parents who are unable to provide for them. Still others live with parents but work on the streets, scraping together money for the family for food and shelter. These children live under the constant threat of violence, drug abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation. Some of them are even abused by the police and other such authorities who should be protecting them.

We had traveled to Ecuador in the spring of 2005, along with a team of eight Americans, to lead a Teachers’ Conference and an Intensive Training School for children’s teachers. Our seven days of training were extremely busy teaching and working with the 360 teachers attending the school. At the end of the week, we sent out 58 teams of newly trained teachers throughout the coastal regions of Ecuador for a week of evangelism. Working with 58 different churches, they held 548 evangelism events at which 26,904 people heard the Gospel and 15,725 people prayed to receive Christ! Praise the Lord! As a result of these evangelisms, ninety new believers’ classes were begun.

We saw the gold painted children several times during our stay in Guayaquil. Each time, our hearts were filled with compassion for them and we prayed that we would be able to do something for them before we returned home. Finally, near the end of our trip, my husband, Danny, and I decided to create an opportunity to talk to these children. With the help of a local pastor, we went to meet with these children on the corner where they “worked” the intersection.

When we drove up, they were digging through the garbage. Although they had removed their paint, which that day was silver, traces of it could still be seen around their faces and on their hair. We soon found out that there were six children in this group: three boys and three girls, ages eight to fourteen. We learned that they lived in homes an hour and a half away. When school was in session, they would attend it in the morning and then ride the bus to “their” intersection, paint their bodies and work until late at night, at which time they would return home. Two of them matter-of-factly told us that they were working to support their mother, who was chronically ill and bed-ridden. They were rather matter of fact about their way of life. This is just the way it is.

At first, Danny and I were nervous around them and unsure of what we were to do. But we soon realized that they were normal kids and would respond to attention like any other kid. We gave them sandwiches and cokes, which they wasted no time in devouring while leaning on the hood of our car. While they ate, Danny began to do some object lessons and tell some stories from the Gospels. They were enthralled and totally enjoyed listening to him. So, as we usually do for other children at our evangelisms, we invited them to pray to receive Jesus Christ in their hearts. To our delight, all six responded that they would like that and they all bowed their heads and prayed for the great gift of salvation!

After praying with them and teaching them how to do the object lessons themselves, we invited the children to go with us to a nearby mall so we could buy them some clothes. They protested that the security guard at the mall would not allow them to enter. So, we went and discussed the situation with the security guards, who allowed us to accompany the children. I am sure we were a sight with our local pastor, Danny and I and six dirty, matted-hair children in such a clean, modern mall.

After some discussion, Danny and the pastor took the three boys to one store to shop for pants while I took the three girls to another. I soon discovered that these girls were just like girls all over the world, touching and admiring all the latest things. The girls chose really cute matching crew pants. Their smiles were genuine as each one tried on their choice and modeled for me to see. Meanwhile, the boys found pants for themselves. All were happy and excited about the shopping except for one nine year old boy, Jose. He was sullen and so angry inside. It was difficult to reach him. How frightening to think of what he must have been through in his young life that had already made him so angry!

After seeing the girls eye some jewelry, I decided to take the girls back into the store. I let the girls choose some inexpensive jewelry sets that contained a ring, earrings and a bracelet. They seemed particularly happy that I bought a matching set for myself, and it seemed to solidify our newfound friendship.

By the end of the shopping trip, the afternoon was almost gone and we knew it would soon be time to say our goodbyes. Just as we were ready to leave, Jose piped up that he was hungry again, so we found a nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken and took them in to eat. Once again we found ourselves attracting stares from other customers, but this did not diminish our enjoyment of being with our new friends.

Following the meal of chicken, rice and beans, we knew we could not put off the inevitable any longer. We prayed with these golden children again and said tearful goodbyes as they ran back to their intersection to paint themselves and to take up the night’s work.

With reassurances that our pastor friend and his wife would follow up with these children, we left Ecuador thankful that 360 children’s teachers had been trained and over 15,000 people had prayed to receive Christ, but also that we had truly “found gold in Ecuador” in the form of six special children.

© 2006 Beyond Ourselves.