Summiting Cotopaxi

It’s 11:42 pm on August 31, and most people are either asleep or going to sleep.

cotoboysUs?  Well, we are climbing out of our tents at Cotopaxi National Park.  The wind is whipping and pelting us with dirt and dust.  After getting our gear on and bags packed, we pray and beg God to help us make it to the summit: 19,387 feet above sea level.

Esteban is the only one who has summited a snow-capped volcano (we call them “nevados” here).  For Saúl, Byron, Danny, and me, it will be our first time, and we are all depending on Esteban to get us there.

It’s a new experience for me altogether: walking with crampons, maneuvering with an ice axe, being tied together, starting at midnight.  The altitude isn’t too friendly either as it’s a struggle to breathe and it makes me feel nauseous when I try to eat.

About two hours into the uphill (upmountain?), we come to a “grieta” or a large crevasse in the glacier.  It’s between 2 and 3 in the morning.  We are navigating with headlamps.  After about an hour and a half of searching, we find a way around it and get “on track” again (but not before Byron went hip deep in another crack and thought that was the coolest part of his journey).

By this time, it is incredibly steep.  We alternate between walking like a penguin and crawling on all fours.  Can you imagine that brutal incline?  Reach up and hook in the axe first, pull up, plant toes of crampons in the snow/ice, move the next foot up, and then your other arm.  Again.  And again.  And again.  For hours.

At this point, I’m exhausted.  To be honest, I was miserable.  When we got up at 11:42, I had actually never been to sleep.  I was running on fumes and adrenaline.

I look to the east as the first signs of sunrise jump over the horizon.  In some ways, this was encouraging.  It’s tough to be in the dark so long.  I know that the sun will warm things up a bit.  However, we were supposed to be on the summit at sunrise, and the rising of the sun exposes just how far we have to go.

Ecuador Cotopaxi 01-07 Cotopaxi And Yanasacha Rocks At Sunset From North


The climb famously ends with whats called “heartbreak hill.”  In Spanish, it sounds even stronger “rompecorazones” or “heart-breaker.”  I was suffering so badly, I was certain that we were on heartbreak hill.  When we got to the top of the ridge, I saw Yanasacha.  It’s actually a signature part of Cotopaxi, as it’s towering rock face is easily identifiable from a distance and easily seen from Quito.  Being by Yanasacha, I knew that we hadn’t gotten to the heartbreak hill yet.

We sat down there to watch the sunrise.  Off in the distance, we could see other “nevados” towering over the low clouds.  All of us, even though we didn’t want to admit it out loud, thought “Can I do this?  Can I make it?”  To be transparent, my thoughts were, “I can’t do this.  I’m so tired.”

10532320_10101352373589346_4711340323252673287_oByron said, “How are you doing on a scale from 1 to 10?”  I hear the different answers ring out: 7…6…7…3…8.  Well, I said I was a 6, but truthfully I was a 5 at best.  We encouraged one another, and we set out for heartbreak hill.

We stopped one last time before taking on the most torturous part of the climb.  We shared chocolate and water.  We had to share the water because most of our Nalgene bottles were frozen!

Looking at our watches, it was around 9am.  We were already two hours late to the summit, and we had at least one hour left to go.  ¡Vamos!  Let’s go!

A little over an hour later, Esteban turned around and motioned for me to pass him.  We were there!  We had made it to the summit!

Saúl and I both collapsed to our knees.  I cried as I thanked God for allowing us to get to the summit and to do it together.  We celebrated by eating banana bread and taking pictures.

We were a little sad that it was cloudy and we couldn’t see the crater or much of anything else.  But, God was so good to us as the clouds peeled away and we got to see the crater and Quito!  God is so good to us.


I am happy to say that the trip down was much less eventful.  It was a long and boring 4 hours, but we could easily see the trail on the way down so we didn’t get lost.

It was an incredible experience for us as a team.  We preach adventure and getting out of your comfort zone as tools of transformation, and we lived it!  It pushed us beyond our limits and closer to God. Thank you Lord!


Experiential Education: Facilitator Training

For two weekends in March, our Program Team hosted a training for new facilitators.


The role of a facilitator here at El Refugio is indispensable. Our facilitators guide groups through a series of activities and reflections so that groups can accomplish their proposed goals. Without them, we would not be able to fulfill our mission to provide a training and retreat center that facilitates a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ through nature and outdoor adventure.

We had eleven new facilitators training with us–a great number because El Refugio continues to exponentially increase the number of groups that pass through its gates. Without getting into too much detail about the content of the training, I simply want to relate some stories about the facilitators who attended.


All of our facilitators are volunteers, and many have jobs, school, and families outside of El Refugio that demand their attention. It is a huge sacrifice for them to give up their weekends. We were speaking about this with one of our new trainees and he shared with us that his mother recently passed away from cancer. After that devastating blow, his father took his own life. This new facilitator is in a vulnerable position and we have the great honor of walking with him through this difficult time. Our goal in our trainings is not just to increase head knowledge; we want to create a strong bond between our staff and the new trainees. We offer El Refugio as a place that is always open to them. We hope that our relationship with this new facilitator will grow and he will find a loving family here at El Refugio.

Two of the other facilitator trainees had an overwhelming fear of heights when they arrived at El Refugio. They had to confront this fear head on the fifth day of training while on our high ropes course. The high ropes course is situated about 30 feet above the ground. Participants, connected by carabiners and ropes, must cross six elements with another person. Somehow, the two facilitators with the greatest fear of heights were placed together (a logistics fluke that turned out to be one of the best decisions we made that weekend). At the beginning of the course, the two moved along the cables trembling and would shout out nervously when they felt they were going to fall; but, with the encouragement of our facilitator trainers and the other trainees, they passed five of the six elements.

When the trainees arrived on the platform of their final element, the Islands, (see the photo below) our Facilitator Director challenged them to act as if they were not attached to the cables, which meant that they could not to try to save themselves. If they felt off balance, they were to simply fall, let the ropes catch them, and then continue on. For someone with a fear of heights, this sounds insane. I had my own doubts. I guessed that they would hold on to their connecting ropes the entire time, just to feel secure and not fall.


The two began the element and surprised me by jumping the first two boards without any help from their own ropes. They jumped and found their balance perfectly. Amazingly, the two facilitators continued to advance without the help of their ropes. When they finished and were standing on a stable platform, they whooped with newfound confidence. One of them later told us he no longer feared heights and was ready to take on even greater challenges.

These two courageous facilitators lived out what many of us only talk about: that when you face your fears head on, the fears diminish and you are able to move forward without the chains of fear holding you back. This is what we want during our trainings: participants experientially living out what they are learning in the classroom. Because, as Confucius said,

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Pray for our new facilitators that they would continue to grow in their ability to guide groups successfully, and grow in their love for the LORD and for the groups that pass through El Refugio.

Written By: Katelynn Camp




Cuan hermosos son los pies de los que anuncian la paz de los que anuncian buenas nuevas. Romanos 10:15b

Cuando me siento frente al computador para dirigirme a usted siempre me digo será que el trabajo de este mes fue suficiente o importante como para compartirlo con usted? Será que mi Padre Celestial está contento y complacido con lo que he hecho en este mes?  Lo único que puedo decirles es que sigo en Río Negro trabajando con los niños, que aunque hay semanas que vienen muchos, también hay semanas que no llegan y eso me duele mucho.



En estas fotos ustedes pueden apreciar a un grupo de adolescentes que como les comenté el mes pasado están en discipulado y confío que Dios obre en ellos y ponga en sus corazones el anhelo de bautizarse porque ya han aceptado a Cristo como su Salvador, esta semana vinieron 2 nuevos y eso de verdad me alienta mucho.

Los más pequeños también están perseverando, vienen para jugar pero en ese tiempo comparto historias bíblicas y principios de obediencia, reverencia y temor a nuestro Dios.


Hermanos por favor sigan orando por esta sierva y esta obra, de verdad que hay momentos en que el desaliento quiere apoderarse de mí y me da temor, pero sigo en pie obedeciendo al llamado de mi Dios, gracias por sus oraciones, su interés y su aporte, el Dios Eterno y Verdadero sea bendiciéndoles, prosperándoles y devolviéndoles al 100% cada detalle que usted tiene para esta sierva y ministerio.

 Dios les bendiga y les amo en el amor de Jesucristo. Recuerde Río Negro está en el corazón de Dios. Soy Ana Galindo Missionary Ventures, Email: anagalindop@hotmail,com. Teléfonos 032496173-0995515919 Cooperativa de Ahorro y Crédito 29 de Octubre Cta. N.4501121598.


Ana Galindo P.


Ana Galindo es una misionera quien está viviendo y trabajando en Río Negro. Nosotros, como ministerio, estamos apoyando su trabajo y su ministerio con nuestros grupos de trabajo y en cualquier forma que podemos. 


Ana Galindo is an Ecuadorian missionary who is living and working in Río Negro. As a ministry we are supporting her work and ministry by partnering with our short-term teams and in whatever other way we can. 


The Olympics: Dedication

The Olympics have never been something that have gotten me really excited.


      I think they’re great– don’t get me wrong– it’s just that I know some people who get so pumped to watch the Olympics, and I don’t quite relate. That being said, I’ve watched a ton of events with my wife, Suzy, this year– probably more than I ever have before– and it has been quite enjoyable.

      While listening to some of the stories of the Olympians, it struck me how much dedication and practice they devote to becoming the best at what they do. These athletes spend 4 years training. Some spend 8… 12… 16 years, if they decide to keep coming back; like Bode Miller who just won a metal in his fifth Olympics (his first being in 1998). But let’s stick with the idea of 4 years. Think about that decision: I will dedicate the next 4 years to train my body and discipline myself to become the absolute best at what I do. And if I succeed, I will get a small, round piece of metal and stand on top of a box for a few minutes on tv. Okay… I’ll admit that there is some world fame that goes with it and other perks, too.


      Something about that dedication strikes me. Every decision that you make for 4 years influenced by that one goal… wow. I guess the sad thing for me is that the whole pursuit is so ‘self’ focused. In the end the goal is self-promotion and fame in the eyes of man. It certainly is an accomplishment… but what if the goal wasn’t self-focused?

      What if all of that focus and energy and dedication was put towards expanding the Kingdom of God and bringing fame and glory to His name? I guess the parallel is easy for me to see, being that I’m in ministry. But this question is healthy to ask for those of us in ministry and for those who are not: Is every decision that I make influenced by the goal of bringing glory to His name? 


      Whether you’re in formal ministry, serving/volunteering in a church, or someone who wants to dedicate the next 4… 8… 12… 16… or 60 years to expanding the Kingdom; can we live with that same dedication as Olympic Athletes? With their passion? Drive? Our goal is so much more worthy; our results more eternal; our impact more lasting; and our motivation more inspiring. Our motivation is not simply the same old ‘overcoming the odds of a small town in middle-of-nowhere america’ … our motivation is that our Creator carried a cross to the top of a hill and gave His all for us: and we’re sinners! Shouldn’t that be inspiring enough for us to be willing to give at the very least four years of our lives dedicated to Him to expand His Kingdom?

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19 – 21






A Year in Review

We gathered as a staff on Wednesday & took time to remember & celebrate 2013.

staff mtg 2013

I enjoyed the activity quite a lot and decided we should share all that happened with you as well!

We held the Youth World Annual Team Conference in January. The Olsens officially started their work at El Refugio that month, too– though they arrived in December. We also found out in January that the Cevallos family would not be returning from their time in the US.


Our ‘Fronteras’ Internship program ended, but with it’s end, two of the 4 interns became full-time program staff members: Saúl and Esteban.

Mari Bajaña and the Klassen family were called away from ministry at El Refugio as well; but Karina Molina took a full-time position in the office, we hired Doña Piedad to work in hospitality and the kitchen, and the Darnell family joined the team as well, filling the vacant program director position!


We had a constant flow of ecuadorian groups throughout the year ranging from church groups to high schools to business groups– and the income we were able to take in from those groups is the highest we’ve ever had!


In March the LIFT team from Camp-Of-The-Woods in NY arrived and were here for 2 1/2 weeks. The Man-Up retreat with Alliance Academy males took place in April. Kaden Klassen was born. Faith Church’s missions pastor, Jim VanDuzer and his wife came to visit. We held a ropes technician training. Leader Mundial 2013 took place. We had the biggest group of Alturas interns yet: Pablo, Angela, Darwin, Wilmar, and Josué.


We started Shoeless this past year. We hosted reflection times for Quito Quest teams all throughout the summer. We hosted 5 other short-term teams from the US during the summer: Hickory Creek Community Church, First Baptist Church of Geneva, Newaygo, Westover, and Faith Church. We hosted an IMB Missionary Kid retreat. We had US interns: Ally was here for 6 months, Evan and Mark for 3 months, and Katelynn is still with us, being here for a full year.

US interns

We had Adventure Camp in August, our staff had a retreat in Pedernales, the Darnell’s moved to Calacalí in September, we had a second round of Alturas Interns (Gustavo and Brenda), and held our second facilitator training of the year.


Several backpacking trips happened with facilitators, our program staff, and Alturas interns. We hosted 2 groups from the English Fellowship Church (elders, followed by young adults), Paul led a group of Pastors in ‘shoeless’ days/activities over the course of several months, and in November we planned and hosted Renovalíder, a leadership conference for spanish speakers.

renovaspeakers copy

We still have 2 1/2 weeks of the year left. I’m proud to look back and see all that took place, all the lives that were touched, and all of the ways the Lord provided. More than likely all of you reading this have played some part in person, through prayer, or in support of what we do here. So: thank you. Thanks for a great year. All praise be to God for His faithfulness and goodness to us!

Enjoy the last weeks of this year and have a very Merry Christmas!






merry christmas

Alturas Intern Profile: Brenda

A Not So Common Story


There are things that I can’t avoid, that I would like to leave behind. Perhaps it is a mysterious past which I do not want to reveal… perhaps a life full of difficult situations to confront; mistakes that I usually hide and much to change.

This may perhaps be my life, but I am sure of something and this is that I learned at times it is good to cry, that to be wrong is normal (big surprise), that the love of a mother and a father is unconditional, that the true value of your family is evident when you don’t have them with you, that there will always be someone to make you smile and to dry your tears, that the end of whatever moment or situation is always the perfect beginning to learn something more, that peoples’ lives are constantly changing and I can’t stop it, it’s better for me to adapt, that I should first fill my own expectations of myself  before those of someone else, that my perfect ironies are nothing more than a silly demonstration of egocentrism and vain pride, that each moment and instant that passes I should use humility, that at times (almost always for me) it’s good not to speak and not to lose patience until the point of it driving you crazy, that when I serve I should do it with love not out of obligation, that I will not always have all that I want (this was a hard one for me, being that I’m a little capricious and spoiled), that at times it’s good to trust someone, that the idea to have and be a part of a team has a great result, that from the person you least expect will come a word of encouragement, that I am nothing without God and that there’s not anything nor anyone better than Him, that each day my comfort zone will be tested, that in reality disciplines show us and make us who we are, that I should go a mile more, that everything that you choose, be it good or bad, has it’s consequence, that I should forgive and ask for forgiveness, that things will not always be easy, that I should accept the will of God who loves me so radically to the point that He sent His son to die for me; in the end I believe that I have learned and identify myself as a daughter of the living God: omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; that each day looks to please her father through her actions, someone that looks to tell the entire world of the crazy love that she has found!

Alturas's 2

This, no doubt, is who I am in this moment, I believe that though there are many things to learn, I have a lot of growth ahead of me, but I know that I will not be alone in this walk since I have a family and friends that give me unconditional support; perhaps this is the end of my time in the Alturas program, but as I mentioned before, the process begins and it’s time I put into practice that which I’ve learned… all that this process has taught me that, “He who doesn’t serve with love, doesn’t truly serve.”

Now I must stop writing this story of how my life changed, so I can go live it!



Hay cosas que no puedo evitar, que quisiera dejar atrás, quizá sea un pasado misterioso el cual no quiero mostrar…tal vez una vida llena de situaciones difíciles de afrontar, errores que suelo ocultar y mucho por cambiar.

Esa tal vez sea mi vida, pero de algo estoy segura y es que aprendí que a veces está bien llorar, que equivocarse es normal (gran novedad), que el amor de una madre y un padre es incondicional, que el verdadero valor de la familia se nota cuando no la tienes junto a ti, que siempre habrá alguien que una sonrisa te sacará y tus lágrimas secará, que siempre el final de algún momento o situación es el perfecto inicio para aprender algo más, que la vida de las personas es un constante cambio y no puedo detenerlo, más bien adaptarme, que debo llenar primero mis expectativas antes que las de alguien más, que mis perfectas ironías no son más que una tonta muestra de egocentrismo y vano orgullo, que cada momento e instante que transcurre la humildad debo encontrar, que a veces (casi siempre para mí) es bueno callar y no perder la paciencia hasta el punto que te de un colerín, que al servir debo hacerlo con amor no por obligación, que no siempre tendré lo que quiero (esto resultó difícil para mí debido a que soy un poco caprichosa y consentida), que a veces es bueno confiar en alguien, que resulta muy buena la idea de tener y ser parte de un equipo, que de quien menos esperes te llegará una palabra de aliento, que yo no soy nada sin Dios y que no hay nada ni nadie mejor que él, que cada día mi zona de confort estará a prueba, que las disciplinas en realidad muestran y te hacen lo que eres, que debo rendir una milla más, que todo lo que elija sea bueno o malo tiene su consecuencia, que debo perdonar y pedir perdón, que no siempre las cosas serán fáciles, que debo aceptar la voluntad de un Dios que me ama tan locamente a tal punto que envío a SU Hijo a morir por mí; en fin creo que he aprendido a identificarme como la hija de un Dios vivo, omnipotente, omnisciente y omnipresente que cada día busca agradar a su padre a través de sus acciones, alguien que busca contarle al mundo entero el loco amor que ella encontró!

Esa sin lugar a duda soy yo en este momento, y pienso que aún hay muchas cosas que aprender, falta mucho por crecer pero sé que no estaré sola en este caminar pues tengo una familia y amigos que me brindan su apoyo incondicional; quizá sea el fin del programa Alturas, pero como ya mencioné antes, empieza el proceso en el que pongo en práctica lo aprendido…todo ese proceso que me enseñó que “aquél que no sirve con amor, no sirve de verdad”

¡Ahora dejaré de escribir la historia de cómo cambió mi vida, para vivirla!


Alturas Intern Profile: Gustavo

Written by: Gustavo Morales



Greetings to all of my faithful readers! My name is Gustavo Morales. I am an Alturas intern here at El Refugio and I come from Chihuahua, México. I’m nineteen years old and I’m incredibly happy to be here. Being here is a demonstration of the great love and faithfulness of God. I have loved being in Ecuador and have gotten to know some really awesome people at El Refugio and in Youth World. God is refining my character using outdoor adventure, time in His creation, and when I’m facilitating groups. Each week my challenges are new in Christ, and each time my relationship with Him becomes more intimate and deep. I want to continue moving forward in His plans, having the privilege of serving Him, and what better way to do this than fearlessly proclaiming and sharing the Gospel being salt and light wherever I may go.

Alturas's 2


Saludos a todos mis fieles lectores, les escribe Gustavo Morales. Soy interno de Alturas en Hacienda El Refugio, y vengo de Chihuahua, México. Tengo 19 años y estoy muy feliz de estar aquí. Es una muestra más del amor y fidelidad de Dios. Ecuador me ah encantado y he conocido gente muy chevere tanto en El Refugio como en Mundo Juvenil. Dios esta tratando mucho con mi carácter, usando las aventuras extremas, el retiro en la naturaleza y cuando facilito a grupos. Cada semana mis retos son nuevos en Él y mi relación con Él es cada vez más intima y profunda. Quiero seguir avanzando en sus planes, tener el privilegio de servirle y en lo que mejor sepa hacer sin miedo alguno poder proclamar y compartir el evangelio siendo sal y luz donde quiera que vaya.

A Place of Sanctuary and Adventure

This blog entry was written by Ryan Gilles, with photography by Andrew Nicoderm. Orignally posted on the International Teams website. To read the article there, go to 


Roberto chuckles as he rests his arm on a wooden fence post, an amused expression on his face. Two helmet-and-harness-clad middle school boys swing back and forth precariously in front of him, suspended on a tightrope between two tall pine trees. “Vamos chicos!” he cheers as the boys regain their balance and cautiously advance further along the high ropes course.

“This is a great place,” Roberto says, tipping back his baseball cap as he looks around. This is his third time visiting Hacienda El Refugio, an outdoor retreat center just north of Quito, Ecuador, and today he is chaperoning a group of 30 kids from the city. All come from the same neighborhood, Roberto explains, but half are from a church youth group while the other half are at-risk kids. “Being here gives these kids a chance to interact and be out in nature, which they don’t often get living in the city. But mainly, it gives them a chance to hear the gospel in a totally different way.”

Roberto nods his head toward a group of middle school boys navigating a series of swinging platforms a few hundred feet away. “See that boy there?” he says, pointing out a youth wearing a bright red t-shirt. “He’s run away from home eight times and been expelled from three different schools. But this is his second or third time here and each time he’s really risen to the top as a leader. You put kids in this kind of challenging and fun environment and you see things you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”

As the boy finally reaches the last platform, Roberto adds, “And you know what? Since coming to El Refugio, that kid has started getting involved in the youth group too.”

Stories like Roberto’s are the reason that International Teams’ Hacienda El Refugio ministry exists. In 2012 alone, nearly 2,500 individuals visited the 320-acre outdoor retreat center nestled in the rolling green mountains above Quito. For all who come, whether church missions teams, corporate retreats, or local Ecuadorian school groups, the center seeks to be both a place of true sanctuary and true adventure.

Paul Reichert is the current Director of El Refugio and for him, the strategy is clear. “Everyone comes to El Refugio at a different place in life and we try to meet them right where they are,” Paul explains. “Some people who come really need risk, but sometimes what others need is a refuge. Our goal is to determine which and try and facilitate the right kind of environment.”

While the programs and activities at El Refugio vary based on the needs of each group, the basic goal remains the same. “We want to see authentic life change,” Paul says. “To be a resource for schools, businesses, and the Church here in Quito and abroad.”

Neither tranquility nor adventure is in short supply at El Refugio. For those seeking the former, the serenely sloping property is dotted with multiple secluded benches and quiet vistas, not to mention an enormous Swiss-Family-Robinson-style tree house deep in the woods where individuals and groups are welcome to spend time in reflection. And for adventure seekers, the sprawling property is home to a 40 foot climbing wall, a high ropes course, a zip-line, and numerous hiking trails.

Leaning back in his office chair, Paul gazes out the window at the sloping green property outside, wisps of cloud rushing over the tops of the hills above. “There’s just something about this place that makes people immediately drop their guard,” Paul adds. “I want this to be a place where people feel safe and free to ask tough questions.”


Facilitating Leadership

Hacienda El Refugio is one of several different ministry avenues in Quito that International Teams operates under the banner of Youth World. Whether it be through an outdoor retreat center, a skate park, or a home for Quito’s street boys, Youth World aims to train and disciple the next generation of youth leaders in Ecuador. For Paul Reichert, that vision for leadership development has become an increasingly important part of the vision at El Refugio.

“I’ve realized over the years that developing leaders is really one of the central purposes of this place,” he says. “Both for our staff and local volunteers as well as for the groups that come.”

Outside Paul’s office, the kids from Roberto’s group have finished with the high ropes and gathered on the lower lawn for a series of team building activities. Laughter and amused shouts fill the air as the youths work together to untwist human knots and guide their groups through an obstacle course without touching the ground. After the games, they gather together on the lawn to talk about what they learned.

“So how was it?” asks an Ecuadorian staff member named Esteban. “Was working together harder than you thought?” Standing in front of the group, the 22 year old wears a black Hacienda El Refugio shirt with the Spanish word “Facilitador” on the back.

Esteban, along with nearly 50 other local Ecuadorians, is part of a leadership development program El Refugio launched several years ago to invest in the community and pour into the next generation. The program starts with local volunteers, called facilitators, who work under full time staff to gain valuable experience leading groups through the activities. Since 2005 the program has seen over 120 volunteers. In 2012 El Refugio launched additional programs called Alturas and Fronteras, intensive internship programs for promising facilitators focusing on spiritual development, discipleship, and more extensive training in outdoor ministry.

For Esteban, the experience at El Refugio has made all the difference in the world. “With all the facilitators, it’s like one big family,” he says. That reality is significant for Esteban who, like many young adults in Ecuador, grew up without knowing his father who left for Europe when Esteban and his three brothers were still young. “When I came here to El Refugio I found friends,” he says with a thoughtful expression. “Real friends, Christian friends. El Refugio gave me an objective. Since the first time I went into the mountains, I loved it and all these activities. Now I know I want to study to be a tour guide.”

After three years of working as a facilitator and moving through the Alturas and Fronteras programs, Esteban is now an official employee at El Refugio with the chance to disciple and mentor other younger facilitators down the line. “I look at myself now and I don’t believe this is my life,” he says with a wide grin. “Three years ago I never would have believed I would be here.”

The difference of depth

As the day winds to a close, Roberto’s group heads toward the busses, the sun melting into the mix of clouds and mountain peaks along the horizon. The group was only at El Refugio for the day, but Roberto knows they will be back. “What these kids experience here makes a difference,” he says.

Those at El Refugio hope that the same is true of every group. In the months and years to come, the staff plan to continue expanding and developing the programs they offer, with special new emphasis on reaching out to the immediate surrounding community, a rural town called Calacali.

“We have a lot of ideas for growth and breadth, but any new ideas we have are always checked by our commitment to depth,” Paul says with a firm nod. “We know that transformation is what God does. Here at El Refugio we are simply asking how we can be a part of that.”

Behind the Scenes at El Refugio: Facilitating

They looked defeated.

handsAfter trying over ten times, they still could not do it. They were tired. I could see it in their eyes. Why even continue?

I was facilitating a group of Ecuadorian Master’s degree candidates from a university in downtown Quito. I had brought them to one of our low ropes elements called “The Cable.” In short, I asked the entire team to tightrope (with no assistance from those on the ground) across a cable about the width of your middle finger and about 8 meters long. As a facilitator, I had decided to throw this difficult task at them and now I faced a group of tired, “at the end of their rope (or cable in this instance),” frustrated students.

Hacienda El Refugio exists to provide a training and retreat center which facilitates a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ through nature and outdoor adventure. One of the main ways we accomplish this mission is by creating custom retreats for groups of individuals of varying ages. We have a large number of facilitators from around the Quito area that guide the groups during these retreats. In most cases, the retreats are different from what you would normally imagine as a retreat. Each retreat has an objective, a purpose, and our facilitators have been trained by El Refugio staff on how to guide a group through a series of activities and challenges to accomplish those purposes.

Facilitating is not an easy or straightforward task. As I have facilitated groups and watched other facilitators guide groups, one of the most important things I have learned and observed is that there is no one way to facilitate a group. A part of facilitator training is learning to be open to and look for these different paths of leading. We call these different ways  “La Pata de Gallina,”or “The Chicken’s Foot” (see below). Depending on the group dynamic and each individual’s level of participation, there are many different ways that I could lead a group.

pata de gallina

For example, in the story at the beginning of this post, I described how my group of university students could not get everyone across the cable. Their frustration levels continually rose and everyone seemed to be talking at once. Everyone thought they had the best idea, the idea that would work; however, after several failed attempts, it began to get silent. I had several options in that moment: encourage the group to continue working towards the goal, stop the group and reflect on teamwork and listening to each other, or maybe reflect on the importance of choosing a leader, or maybe help the group identify what was working and what was not working. I did not take them to this low point without purpose.  “La Pata de Gallina” was offering me several different roads to take. The most important question on my mind in that moment (and in the minds of all of our facilitators as they guide groups) was how can I apply what this group was experiencing to their daily lives?

Two essential parts of facilitating are prayer and observation. God ultimately knows and directs a group’s experience. It says in Proverbs 16:9:

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps” (NLT).

An incredibly exciting part of facilitating is that God is working through us to accomplish His purposes in the lives of others. He chose us to speak His words and show His love to each person who comes to El Refugio. We do not want to miss that! That is why prayer is so essential to our work. We often pray for wisdom, open eyes, and the words that will impact each group member’s heart.

Observation is another essential piece to facilitating because, again, there is not a cookie cutter way of handling a group. It takes practice to see just what a group needs in the moment. In groups of ten or more participants, it can be difficult to gauge the level of the group and offer relevant guidance. By observing the group, what roles the participants take, and how each participant responds to the challenges, we can provide a more meaningful experience.

paredFor example, I took a group of high school students to our low ropes element, “The Wall.” The entire team had to scale a twelve foot wall with only the help of their fellow group members. This particular group worked extremely well together until the very end of the exercise. One member was left standing at the bottom of the twelve foot wall alone. The group continued to encourage him with shouts of, “You can do it!” “Maybe if you tried this…” He tried several different ways of jumping, using his legs, using his arms…Nothing worked.  In the end, we had to call the group together and end the exercise. The original plan was to have the entire group get over the wall and learn how to work together to meet a difficult goal; however, this was an opportunity to use my observations and the observations of the group to create a relevant and impactful lesson. What we needed to talk about was their definition of success. Was the group’s success dependent on everyone getting over the wall? What was success for the group in this moment? The group realized that success, in this instance, was putting forth their best effort and continuing to encourage each other during the entire process. They learned that in their daily lives, there will be times when they will realize that their original expectations were too high (like the twelve foot wall that they could not all scale), and they would need to re-evaluate their definition of success.

We at El Refugio believe that there should be a purpose in everything we do during a group’s time here. The questions we ask and the crazy activities we plan (like following a leader’s voice while blindfolded) are all meant to bring our groups to a better understanding of themselves, their role in the group, and who the Creator of the creation around them is. It is a pleasure and a gift to be a facilitator and I cannot wait to see how God will continue to work in my life, the lives of the other facilitators, and the lives of those who visit El Refugio.

Katelynn Camp


I learned an interesting lesson in ‘force’ a week and a half ago.


ImageReally, I blame the whole thing on Pinterest. You see, we have a really nice outdoor space at our house here in Calacalí. However, we haven’t given it a ton of attention– though we’d like to! And of course, when you desire to spruce something up, to you must go. We searched and came up with the idea of making an outdoor chandelier comprised of driftwood from the beach, a rough kind of twine/rope, and glass jars that would hang from it, containing candles– something somewhat similar to the picture you see here.

We bought some candles. We already had the driftwood. And when over at a friends’ house, we were offered a couple of perfect, empty pasta jars. I went home that night bound to make this thing happen. The problem was, the mouth of the jar was a little smaller than the jar itself, as well as the size of the candles. 

No problem. I took out a knife to shave down the candle. I take the shaved-down candle and begin to insert it into the jar. The thing is, the candle still doesn’t quite fit. But it was close. I got it halfway in. A little further. And then. THEN I used force. I just knew I could get it through– it was so close! So I fixed my hand on the top of the candle and used a bit of my body weight. I pushed. And pushed. Until…

The glass jar completely shattered and exploded beneath the pressure being exerted upon it. 

Needless to say, my hand got pretty cut up. I lost a fair amount of blood. It hurt quite a lot. And I felt light-headed and quite foolish for the rest of the night. Just in the past couple of days is the last of the wounds finally healing completely.

The lesson here is perhaps quite obvious, but I’ll share it just the same. God has been showing me through all of this that force is not the answer. I mean… is force ever the answer? Granted, force can bring about results. Things can get done under pressure and tension… but I think relationships are almost always damaged as a result of this approach. 

I’ve watched the series ’24’ on-and-off over the past couple of years. I’m reminded of the principal character, Jack Bauer. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the show, but Jack is someone who gets things done– no matter what the cost. He gets results. He does terrible things constantly to force results and get answers; and he gets them. But he is an island. I haven’t watched the entire series, but until this point, I have yet to see a single person that deeply cares about Jack. He’s burned essentially every person he knows at one point or another. Is that a good reputation: someone who is able to force results?


The method does matter. The heart does matter. And I see obvious parallels in evangelism. When we share the Gospel, are we thinking of the person with our heart and longing for them as a friend to know the greatest truth that exists– or do we see them as a number? Do we think in terms of heads to count at whatever the cost, whatever method necessary? Or do we see them as people, children dearly loved who are complex and need time and love and care? Force is not the answer, as I clearly learned with my hand and the pasta jar.

What great news we have to share with those around us! The truth of the Gospel– of what Christ did– this is a message that everyone needs to hear! But how we deliver that message is important. We represent a loving God who cares deeply for each and every individual in our world. I pray that I always keep in mind that force, though at times might be easier, is not likely going to bring about the results I would hope. May we walk in the truths of God’s word, ever learning, ever striving to grow and be more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.