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Ecuador 2009: Eleven man team helps build orphanage

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Robert Hasse is a self-proclaimed homebody. He rarely travels away from home longer than overnight and is the most content when he is spending time with his family and friends. Yet, on January 22, the West Fargo chiropractor stepped out of his comfort zone to travel all the way to Ecuador on a ten day mission trip to help build an orphanage in the middle of jungle terrain.

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Hasse was part of an eleven-man team from Triumph Lutheran Brethren Church's Moorhead and West Fargo congregations, led by Rev. Kirk Militzer, youth minister at Triumph's Moorhead campus. Partnering with Youth World Ministries based out of Quito, Ecuador, the team spent a week digging trenches and pouring concrete for a septic tank at the future site of an orphanage for abandoned and disabled children.

Getting all their tools through customs was one of the first challenges the team faced. Each of the men packed an extra suitcase filled with handsaws, tool kits, masonry bits, cordless drills, trowels, rebar cutters, and concrete forming hardware, along with durable work clothes for the trip. They also brought cloth diapers and supplies for the orphanage, including a fax machine, copier, printer, and a video projector. Before packing, the men had to mark up their equipment to make their tools look old and worn so that customs officials wouldn't think they were trying to smuggle new tools into Ecuador to resell for profit.

To their amazement, not one of their bags was opened at airport checkpoints. Hasse said that this was one of the many instances when he felt God watching over them and protecting them throughout the trip.

The men flew into Quito, situated in the Andes Mountains, at an elevation of 9,300 feet. From there, they took a five hour bus ride to the village of Shell, located in the foothills 94 miles from Quito.

It had been raining when they were in Quito, but the rain let up long enough for them to tour the Youth World headquarters and load the bus after attending church services Sunday morning. It rained most of the way to Shell, and continued to rain throughout that day and most of the night.

On Monday, Jan. 26, the team visited La Casa de Fe, an orphanage located in a rented house in Shell. Patti Sue Arnold, a woman from Illinois, had started the orphanage with two children in 2000. Since then, her operation has grown to include 42 children, and the orphanage has run out of space. She has secured a grant to build a new facility on a seven-acre plot she purchased in Shell. However, the Ecuadorian government will determine how much of the grant money she will actually see.

It continued to rain all morning as the team toured the orphanage, but as soon as they reached the job site where the new orphanage will be built, the rain stopped. The heavy rains created muddy working conditions for the men, but they welcomed the cooler temperatures and shade from the hot sun provided by the overcast skies while they worked. It was hard, physical labor, and the men found that having a chiropractor among them came in handy to relieve their aching backs at the end of the day. Each evening they would quit work about 6:30, tired from the day's labor. But sharing "guy" time became an important part of each day, with many of the men staying up late into the night talking after their evening devotions. Dubbing their trip "Ecuador 2009: A Guy Thing," the group experienced a rare bonding, developed through working shoulder to shoulder and praying together.

Miraculously, the rain held off throughout the week. On January 29, in a journal Hasse kept during the trip, he wrote: "This is our last day. We set up the forming walls for the sides of the septic tank and decided to pour the walls before lunch. We were able to get all this done by 1:30. As we were doing the last pour it started to rain lightly and by the time we got everything put away it was raining quite hard. No rain until we finished our job. Another blessing."

The trip was a defining moment for Hasse, leading him to question his priorities in life and re-evaluate how he uses his time, finances, and God-given talents.

"I don't know how anyone can have this experience [mission trip] and not have it affect their life. The God moments were everywhere. The simple pace of life allowed us to see the everyday miracles of God. While I was in Ecuador, I found myself rethinking how I have been handling my finances and life in general. We have become slaves to the things that we have, and with that, we are not in a position to follow what God may have in store for us," reflected Hasse.

  The return flight home was a lot lighter. The men left their tools at the work site and threw most of their mud-encrusted clothes away, leaving work boots and anything salvageable for the next crew to use.

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