Mission To Ecuador
by Maggie Stoffregen

My husband, Adam, and I, along with our girls, Macy and Wynn, had the opportunity to serve alongside several other Dawson families and students on a spring break mission trip to Ecuador, South America. International mission trips can be unnerving because there are many unknowns. From the conversations while traveling, and serving the Ecuadorian people, to seeing some of the amazing tourist sites, this was the perfect trip for someone new to international mission work. We knew we would be in good hands since Boyd Kaiser would be leading this trip. Boyd has actually led mission trips to Ecuador for thirteen years, so we trusted his guidance to lead us outside of the country. Every detail was covered from
the packing list to what medicines we should bring with us. Our devotionals were even emailed to us to look over before our trip.

On Saturday morning, we flew from Atlanta to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. We spent the night in a hotel and then traveled about four hours to Camp Chacauco. Steve and Carol Thompson, two of Dawson's mission partners, established Camp Chacauco in the mountain region of Ecuador many years ago. Steve and Carol have the most amazing stories of how God has blessed their time in Ecuador with the ability to reach so many Ecuadorian people. They have been leading groups like ours week after week for the last thirty years. Steve and Carol are inspiring to be around and, their desire to spread the Gospel is contagious. It was truly a blessing to meet them both and to hear about their hearts for sharing God's love in Ecuador.

During the first part of the week, at Camp Chacauco, our mission team led a three-day camp for 14- to 21-year-old students. This camp is so desirable that many students missed school just to attend the camp, and several had traveled over 12 hours to be there. The camp structure is similar to what a summer camp would be like in Alabama, complete with cabins, a dining hall, and an abundance of recreation space. We led devotionals, helped facilitate fun activities, and washed dishes, a lot!

There were volunteers who were already at Camp Chacauco who led worship and shared the Gospel. Our Dawson group helped lead the small groups (with the help of a translator), and we got to know the students personally. One of the most rewarding parts of the trip was getting to know the Chacauco staff and the translators who devote their time each week to loving the Ecuadorian students.

During the three days we were at Camp Chacauco, our Dawson students did an amazing job of engaging with the Ecuadorian students. They played a lot of games together. One of their favorites was like the "Organized Mass Chaos" game our kids have played at Centrikid. Dawson's students were willing to crawl through the mud and get soaking wet just so they could relate to their new Ecuadorian friends. One night, we had a bonfire where several of our own students shared their personal testimonies, which deeply touched many people.

On a different night, we all dressed up and hosted a fancy banquet for the Ecuadorian students. This gave us a new opportunity to serve them and to make them feel special. After dinner, we held a talent show that provided lots of laughs. The camp did a wonderful job of sharing the
Gospel and teaching the Bible all while creating a fun, inviting atmosphere for the kids to develop relationships with each other.

On that Wednesday, we said goodbye to Camp Chacauco and traveled to a camp in the jungle that was also built by Carol and Steve Thompson. We were fortunate to serve in both the mountain camp and jungle camp because each offered unique experiences and reached different groups
of Ecuadorian people. Along the way to the jungle camp, we were able to stop and do some fun “touristy” activities. We rode in a swinging basket­ between two mountain tops. (It was absolutely beautiful and scary all at the same time!) Next, we hiked to a waterfall. Some of the group crawled under the falls, while the rest of us enjoyed the breathtaking view from a swinging bridge. Steve had planned our stops at these specific tourist attractions to support the workers because they were people with whom he had shared his faith and helped lead to Christ. Knowing that made the adventures even more memorable for all of us.

We arrived at the jungle camp late in the afternoon, and we started getting ready to lead the women’s conference. Women from all over the jungle and coast traveled many hours to be a part of this three-day camp. Dawson's women, with the help of a translator, led several sessions for the attendees. The Ecuadorian women soaked up everything we said and were so invested the whole time. An added bonus for us was taking care of the babies and playing with the toddlers while their moms listened and took notes during the sessions. It was so rewarding to see how excited these women were to learn about God’s faithfulness and plans
for their lives.

While the women were leading the conference, Dawson's students, and the rest of the team, led a VBS-style camp in a nearby community. Everyone loved teaching Bible stories, playing with the kids, and doing crafts. At both camps, every person in my family was so grateful for how well the trip utilized each one of us.

During some free time in the jungle, Steve took everyone on a canoe trip down the Napo River (a river that leads to the Amazon River). We saw many of the villages from which the women had traveled for the conference. We learned that the houses cost $400 each to build, and we also saw women beside the river washing their clothes. It made us each
very thankful for our washing machines! We went through a little village on the way back to the jungle camp and saw monkeys everywhere. The trip down the river allowed us to be immersed in a different culture and understand a little more about how the women we had had ministered to lived their lives. Despite the language barrier, we were able to form deep connections with the women, and we were sad to say good bye. It seems so odd, but even after spending such a short time, we really felt so connected.

The women at the conference left with more knowledge about being godly women, and they took home arts and crafts that will probably be cherished forever. Similarly, my family left with something totally different but just as special. We left with the joy that comes from serving others and spreading the love of Jesus. I can attest that the Stoffregen family made amazing memories in Ecuador, and we hope to go back again soon. It was truly a special week getting to know other Dawson families and having the common goal of serving others. Even the travel time was special as we developed relationships with the others on the trip.

We will be forever grateful for Dawson for providing the opportunity to go and serve together as a family alongside other Dawson families. We had many take-aways from this spring break trip but getting close to the others on the trip was definitely one of the highlights. Our family’s experience on this mission trip to Ecuador was life-changing for all of us. Dawson provides so many opportunities for our children to serve through choir tours, DNOW weekends, and the DSM program, but it was really special to serve together as a family. Now that Macy and Wynn are both in high school, we feel the urgency to make the most of each opportunity we have as a family. We will soon begin a new chapter in our lives in which we will not have as much time to travel together. Going on this mission trip helped us to grow in our faith and as a family. Both of our girls enjoyed different aspects of the trip, and it was rewarding to see them adapt to being out of their comfort zones.

To put it simply, we came back a changed family—one that grew closer and was renewed and strengthened by God’s love and grace. We are grateful to be a part of a church that emphasizes missions and provides opportunities to go and serve the Lord together.

Maggie Stoffregen is married to Adam and they have two daughters, Macy and Wynn. Maggie graduated with a masters in Math Education from Auburn University where she met Adam. She taught math at Homewood High School for 21 years. Maggie and Adam have been members at Dawson since early in their marriage. They enjoy teaching 12th Grade Life Groups and being a part of the DSM team.