Written by: Jensine Frenz
Each day, right around eight o’clock, students begin showing up at the Loja Ministry Center and climbing up to the fourth floor where we hold classes. Current students range in age from seven to seventeen, but despite the large age spread, each student is part of an intimate group that feels like a family. After good mornings are said, we gather together for devotions and worship. It is my favorite way to start the school day because it helps us focus daily on Christ. Without a doubt, the best aspect of teaching MKs is that—for the first time in my teaching career—I am able to freely share Christ’s love with my students. Although their families come from all over the world (Australia, Ireland, Ecuador, United States), these students all share a special bond because their families are all here for the same purpose. They are all here to share the gospel and advance the kingdom of heaven in one way or another. Many of my students are themselves involved in ministries, and I even serve alongside them at times—definitely a very special experience.
My first year at the Loja MK Academy here in Ecuador is nearly halfway over, and the time has really flown by. It has been a special and unique experience teaching here, different than any other teaching position I’ve previously held. It is both a challenge and a privilege to be able to help provide each of the MKs with a solid Christian education (and in English) so that their parents are able to perform their ministries without the extra task of teaching their children at home or supplementing an education from a national school.
To many people, my decision to become an MK teacher in a foreign country seemed to occur quickly; I started communicating with SIM during my Christmas break (2015-2016), and before the school year had ended, I had applied, finished the paperwork, and finalized my decision to come down here. However, what seemed like a quick decision in some ways was really years in the making. I was only twelve when I first decided that I would one day be a missionary. Many times throughout my adolescence and young adult years, I thought of this and even looked into possibilities, but it wasn’t until many years later—after finishing college and quite a few years of teaching in the States—that I finally had the opportunity to go on a short-term mission trip to an orphanage in Guatemala.
After that first trip, I knew it was time to go one step further. At first, I only considered coming to help tutor or teach somewhere for a couple months so that I wouldn’t need to leave my job, my church family, or my friends for long, but after hearing about the need down here, I began to pray. It wasn’t long before I felt that God was calling me specifically to come here—and not just for an easy two-month trip. It was hard to say goodbyes, but now that I am here, I am so glad I took that step of faith! I have everything here that I left behind: I have a wonderful position teaching MKs, good friends, an amazing church family, and so much more. After only five months, I feel more at home in the city of Loja than in some places I’ve lived double that length, and, busy as it is, I enjoy this new life and would be happy if the Lord asked me to stay for many more years.
People often want to know what it’s like teaching here compared to in the States. There are many huge differences. For one thing, there is far more flexibility. The school is more like a homeschool than anything else. Students may finish one grade and start another within the same school year. They may be working on different grade levels for different subjects. I teach fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh-grade math all at the same time. Sometimes this is challenging. However, the flexibility and lack of red-tape present in a traditional school has many bonuses too. It means that we can have spur-of-the-moment field trips to the local cathedral to see the mechanical Nativity scene or we can decide to walk to the corner and buy an ice cream as a break during tutoring. We don’t have the pressure of standardized testing, and all of my pacing and planning is done by me in the way that will best meet the needs of my students. If we need more time to finish our science project one day, we’re free to do that, despite the clock telling us it’s really time for English. If I plan two weeks for our novel study but we really need three, no one needs to approve the change. It’s great to have that freedom because I finally feel I can do what is in the best interest of each student.
In addition to the differences in the school environment, there have definitely been some cultural adaptations I’ve needed to make. That’s to be expected when moving to a new country. The hardest change for me was learning to greet everyone with a kiss on the cheek. Another change was getting used to walking or taking buses and taxis to get around. It’s actually much nicer than needing to drive to get around, but it did take a little getting used to—and I have had some very interesting experiences with the public transportation. It took me a little longer to get used to the fireworks that go off fairly frequently, often late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. One source of confusion for the longest time was the loud, melodic whistling I heard nearly every single day at various times. It took me a couple weeks before I discovered that it wasn’t a person randomly walking by our building; as it turned out, it is the garbage truck! Then I found out that what sounded like an ice cream truck is really the truck selling gas. That would be a huge disappointment if it weren’t for the fact that ice cream is sold on nearly every corner—one huge perk of this city!
Without a doubt, life here is different. There are some differences that are really great and some that just take time getting familiarized with. Through all these changes, God has been helping me to grow in many ways, and each time I do something new, I am reminded again that He is always there to support me through it. Sometimes, I am amazed where I find myself (a natural introvert who has never liked to speak in public outside my classroom): praying in front of large groups like my church, leading a group of adolescents in Bible study, teaching an English class to a local, or spending time fellowshipping or studying the Bible with a large group of young adults I hardly met three months ago, but each time that I find myself surprised, I marvel at how God has been able to equip me and use me for His will, despite my shortcomings and despite what I thought I would ever be able to do.
All I can say is that I am blessed to be a part of the work going on in Loja, and I look forward to seeing what the next year brings!