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Creating a Sweet Space of Grace - Dawn's Story

September 8, 2022

Creating a Sweet Space of Grace - Dawn's Story

September 8, 2022
map of Ecuador - South America

When Dawn said “yes” to becoming a full-time missionary, she had little idea of the journey God would lead her on. A nurse by profession, Dawn travelled with a missions team to Ecuador in 1999 to serve at Reach Beyond’s hospital in Shell. During that trip she met her future husband, Vinicio, who worked on the hospital’s facilities management team.

As a newlywed couple, Dawn and Vinicio hoped to continue serving in Ecuador, but were encouraged to go back to the United States so Vinicio could complete his American citizenship paperwork. What they thought would take five years…turned into 15.

During these years they prayed as they looked at any ministry that would be a great fit for them and their entire family. As it turned out, God led them back to Shell, Ecuador.

As a mom, Dawn was concerned about how her three children would adjust to their new environment. They were going to go to Ecuadorian schools even though they needed to learn the language. “It’s tough on a parent because you never know how their future is going to go. As a missionary, you’re not sure of the hard things your children may have to live through because of your decisions.”

Dawn enrolled her children in the Ecuadorian school system and quickly saw the scarcity of resources. She decided to volunteer at the school and was surprised by its lack of reading material. Dawn knew how important books are for children as they learn to read—even more so for her own children who were also learning a new language.

Dawn asked one of the teachers, “Where can I find reading material for them?” She replied, “Our kids here aren’t readers. There’s nothing for them to read.” Dawn wanted to rectify the situation. “I felt I had to do something to help, so I began looking for reading material for them.”

Dawn located a public library approximately 45 minutes away. “After I arrived at the library, it was hard to believe there was no children’s literature section. I then decided to drive two hours to the closest bookstore. When I arrived, there was very little children’s reading material to be found. I bought up as many children’s books as they had in the store.”

Dawn began collecting books wherever she could find them. She was thrilled to be able to provide reading materials to the school. “I wish it could have been a library, but it’s all we had, and we were grateful.”

Children walking and playing with a soccer ball on a street in Shell, Ecuador.

When the pandemic hit, Dawn saw how deeply it affected Ecuadorian families because of their culture. “It’s common for people to be in close contact with each other. They touch everyone’s face, kiss each other…it’s genuinely a very close family culture.”

“It was obvious that parents were very concerned about their children.” Dawn remembered, “They could see their intense anxiety and depression and didn’t know how to handle it or how to help their children.”

One story that greatly impacted Dawn was a 14-year-old child who lost her grandmother, “She was supposed to be doing full-time online school as well as taking care of her grandmother who was suffering from renal failure. Her grandmother died one day while she was taking care of her. No one else was there at that moment except for her 5-year-old sibling. Her parents were away at work. She had no peers or outside help. She was hopelessly stuck in a situation—alone and afraid.”

“We heard this story and thought, ‘Why don’t we use the upstairs room of our Voz y Manos office as a space where parents could send their children to get some interaction with each other? Why don’t we give them that option?’ So we set up some rules to coincide with the government’s COVID guidelines and began inviting families to send their children. We prayed they would.”

Parents did begin sending their children, which helped them feel some sense of normalcy again. Dawn says, “We were happy we had that space available. We felt like it was a little space of grace that the Lord provided for such a time as this.”

Another way Dawn connects with neighbors and families in the community is through the Sunday School class that she began teaching in 2017. The class started out as being for 12-16 year-olds. Little did Dawn know how vastly different the group would become.

The group began to grow by word of mouth. People asked, “Can I bring my little brother? I can’t leave him alone.” Dawn told them, “Ok, but you have to watch them while you’re here.” Dawn also invited Sophia*, a *25-year-old attorney, and 19-year-old Maria to join the class after hearing they were looking for a Bible study.

The leadership team is as diverse as the kids attending the Bible study. One guy, a computer engineer in his 20's suggested, "Why don’t we do Romans?” Dawn recalls, “I thought that was a good idea, but I asked him, ‘Can you find me a video series or curriculum in Spanish that can help us?’

Well, we couldn’t find anything that covered the entire book of Romans, but we were able to find some videos that had overviews of the book, so we showed the video. It was sort of a panoramic view of Romans.”

“As we went through the series, one of the girls in college said, ‘It’s too fast. We can’t do Romans this way.’ I didn’t have video materials to run through one chapter at a time, so she asked if we could try to read one chapter at a time. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to answer all their questions if we read verse by verse. I’m thinking, ‘I’m a nurse, not a theologian by trade. We can read it, but we’ll see what the Holy Spirit provides.’

A woman (not shown) reading the Bible

“The way we went through the book was to divide up the chapter each week and have every small group teach a portion of the chapter to the larger group. They used 11x17 sized cardstock to create a visual aid for their teaching. The last week, we laid out all the pieces of paper side by side and I said, ‘Hey guys, look what you did! You basically created a graphic commentary on the entire book of Romans.' You could see the joy on the kids’ faces as they looked over their work.”

Dawn is excited to see God working in people’s lives through this Bible study. “When we got to the last chapter of Romans, we thought we’d do it the same way we did the other chapters, but it’s basically Paul saying goodbye, giving greetings, remember this person, remember that person. I said, ‘Let’s see what benefit we can find for us in this last chapter.’

“We started looking at the individual people Paul was naming. We noticed such a diverse group of people who made up the Roman church, including many women. One of the older gals in the Bible study started to cry. She said, ‘Look at all the women that are listed here! I am so interested to learn that women in ministry isn’t a new thing! It’s not a fallout from some modern political movement. It’s not the church modifying itself to follow modern cultural change. This is the way it’s always been!’”