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A State of Emergency

It was 6:58pm, on a typical Saturday night in Monte Sinai, Ecuador and Meghan, Hannah, and I were visiting a neighbor we had never visited before. We were in the kitchen chatting about the upcoming start of the school year, having just prepared a chicken and rice dinner with Ziola and two of her kids, when the cement block walls began to tremble. She told us “es un terremoto!” (it’s an earthquake!) and we scurried to the nearest doorway. From the doorway I watched as the cement walls undulated in waves and for a moment I thought the whole wall of blocks was going to fall over. We kept thinking the shaking would end and she kept comforting us, “tranquilo, tranquilo” (stay calm, stay calm)  but it went on for almost 40 seconds.

“Maybe its not that big of a deal” I thought to myself as I walked to another house to check on one of the families here that I’ve really grown to love. Juan was on the telephone, urgently calling his relatives who lived in Manabí, whose kitchen had fully caved in. Gloria told me that I needed to call my parents at that moment and tell them that I was ok. The TV showed the vice president was announcing a national state of emergency and asking everyone to remain calm. It was then that I realized how grave the situation really was, that this earthquake was not just another little California shake.

That night a 7.8 earthquake hit the coast of Ecuador, causing over 660 deaths , 6274 injuries and 28,678 homes destroyed.  A bridge had fallen in Guayquil and crushed a man driving below. The country and people I have come to love were in a state of emergency.

In a way I had never experienced before, I felt like the Spirit of the whole country had been hit. Every conversation I had that week began with “where were you when the earthquake hit?” “were you scared?” “Do you know anyone affected?” Our neighbors looked through their possessions for what they could donate and many trekked to the site of the destruction to help with the relief efforts and carry water and food to those who were in need. People were praying , giving, and caring. The spirit of generosity that I saw emerge almost universally from the Ecuadorian people was inspiring.

Cheyenne and I lead a series of womens groups called “Faith in Crisis” where we read the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water (Mt 14:22-23). We had conversations with the women about what it means to have faith during a storm, and where we saw God in the midst of all this chaos of the recent earthquake. I will never forget one woman, whose name is Joanna, in the middle of our meeting, was moved to tears by the suffering of her fellow Ecuadorian brothers and sisters. Joanna has her own problems, being an unemployed single mother to 5 children under the age of ten living in a tilting cane home, but I could see in her eyes that her heart was breaking for the people who had lost everything in the earthquake.

I wish I had a heart like Joanna, but truth be told, I felt a little disconnected from the disaster because we live hours away from any real destruction. I was fustrated because I wanted to help but there was little I could do on the relief side. All we could do was pray for those affected or expelled for their homes, and donate as we could. I was also angered to hear that some had taken advantage of the scarcity and were overcharging for food and water, quadrupling prices because the people had no other sources of food. We heard throughout the week how in the affected areas rescuers continued to find people surviving under the rubble, people were scrounging for food and water, and some had lost everything, but I was miles away with little opportunity to give aid.

In the weeks following, the urgency of the situation faded from the minds of the international population, social media, and, generally, the people here (aside from avery real lingering fear of aftershocks). The generosity faded as well and as a volunteer community we began to ask ourselves : Why?

We never experienced the effects of the earthquake here in Monte Sinai, but we are in always in a state of emergency. Our families sometimes don’t have enough food to feed their kids. We see women who are abused by drunken or drug-abusing machismo husbands. We have one Catholic parish to serve over 275,000 residents. While the earthquake was certainly an extraordinary circumstance for people to be concerned and care, part of us felt a certain sadness that, just because it was not “trending” to be supporting the cause of the impoverished in little Monte Sinai, Ecuador, people would be concerned about the real emergency that we witness everyday.

I am so inspired by the beautiful and generous responses to those affected by the recent earthquake in Ecuador. And I hope and pray that as Christians we never forget our imperative to be compassionate towards those who are in need and aware of those who are living in a state of emergency.