By: Kristin Mello ’18
I have had many adventures at Gordon, but my biggest one was a mission trip to Ecuador this spring break with the Wood Fellows, chapel staff, and Abby Stroven, Director of Adventure Pursuits and Rock Gym at La Vida. While in Ecuador, we had the privilege of visiting El Refugio Hacienda, La Vida’s South American counterpart. This retreat center is on a beautiful mountain property more than 9,000’ above sea level, and it is where Abby Stroven spent seven years of her life prior to working for La Vida.
I have really enjoyed my time learning about various programs within La Vida, but as someone who wants to use the concepts of outdoor education internationally, I also need to see what other places and countries do. For this reason, the three days visiting El Refugio was like a dream come true. From hearing Abby’s stories to actually seeing the space they have, observing the way things are organized and facilitated, and working on the property, it was a great conclusion to the week in Ecuador.
While at El Refugio, the team helped out in a few ways: preparing the trails for an upcoming tough mudder (and they got sufficiently muddy), moving hundreds of roof tiles for storage, and working on the living quarters. The first day arriving at El Refugio, the team was led in a few name games and was brought to the Fenix, Ecuador’s Giant Swing. The next morning, most of the team woke up bright and early for a sunrise hike of the property line. At more than 10,000’ elevation, this was the most beautiful hike I have ever done. There is a reason that Abby says it is one of her favorite places in the world. As the sun came up, the mountain range was illuminated and clouds hovered below us. The beauty of God’s world was breathtaking, as nature and civilization joined together in an awesome landscape.
Later that day, we had the opportunity to take some solo time and reflect on the past week in Ecuador. Abby and I walked a little ways into the property, almost bushwhacking at times on a path that was long past use, to the retreat center’s very own tree house, complete with cargo net, individual look-out pods, and bridge. It was in a very peaceful spot surrounded by nothing but green and the smell of eucalyptus, and I had to return for some more time there the next morning with one of the Wood Fellows. The day concluded with dinner at a fire pit and a time of sharing encouragement and gratitude with one another.
One of my personal highlights at El Refugio was the opportunity I had to observe the facilitation of three low elements for a church group during our last full day there. Abraham Vargas, El Refugio’s adventure designer, showed me around and entertained my questions. The group’s day was structured similarly to a day of Adventure Pursuits at La Vida. My Spanish is not perfect by any means, but I was able to follow along and learn a little about the facilitative style at El Refugio. First up was Nitro, or El Rio. It is run very similarly to its counterpart here in the States, and the group had fun with it. After this element, Abraham and I hopped onto the ATV and rode a little ways to another element called the Wall or la Pared. The facilitator began with a verse in Romans, discussing how the body of Christ ought to support one another. Then, he explained the rules and the group began. The element is very similar to La Vida’s, with a few differences that I really like and might even incorporate into my own facilitation next time I do the Wall with a group. The group did well, with a young man starting off as a vocal leader but with the roles changing throughout. Once everyone had successfully conquered the Wall, a debrief was conducted in which each person was asked to contribute to questions about what this element was, what was needed to complete it, and how those principles apply to the body of Christ. Abraham and I then took off to catch the end of the last element, the Whale Watch. After the group left the element, Abraham and I tried out the Whale Watch ourselves, talked about differences between El Refugio and La Vida, and headed back to rejoin my team. I was thankful for the time Abraham took to show me around El Refugio, answering my questions and asking questions of his own.
A final debrief concluded our time at El Refugio and in Ecuador. It was awesome to see the growth of the team throughout the week and the special place that Ecuador now has in everyone’s heart. In addition, it was a huge blessing to see the ministry of El Refugio in action. It is a place and staff that really know how to welcome people and love them well, providing a unique environment of rest and contemplation. Christ is evident in the ministry, and I pray that La Vida continues to show Christ through their programming. I am thankful for the opportunity to have traveled to Ecuador and for the people I met and the experiences I had there. I can now see why Abby Stroven spent seven years in Ecuador, and I hope to return there myself someday.
Kristen Mello has worked for Adventure Camp, Rock Gym, and Adventure Pursuits for the last two years.