Well, here I am, now a full week back in Cuenca, the bustling city of four rivers nestled in a bowl (the meaning of the word "cuenca") surrounded by Andean green mountains. It is good to be back; actually, I have felt throughout the past week that I had hardly left. Almost everything feels altogether familiar including the little house on Calle de las Retamas, where I am again holding up for a couple of months until my new apartment opens on March 1st. The sense of immediate newness and discovery that I had last year when I first visited in far less present; now it is more of a feeling of being back home. There is much yet to discover and so much still to learn, but at least I am doing it now in a place where I feel I belong. On Wednesday of this coming week, I'll take my paperwork into the Ecuadorian government's migration office in the nearby town of Azogues and make formal application for temporary residency. That should make the feeling of being not just a tourist or visitor, but being a person at home even more palpable.
Today, Sunday, we celebrated our first English-language Mass at the Iglesia San Francisco, in the historic center of the city. Attendance was pretty good, maybe fifteen or so English speakers along with a smattering of Ecuadorian locals, and that number even though several of our "usuals" were home sick this weekend. One of those home sick was Chrystal from Texas who also serves as our music minister; without her to lead us in sung praise, I filled in as best I could: we sang a few acclamations and even Amazing Grace after Communion, a bit off-key and unsure of melodies, but somehow it seemed to work. Since I was last here, our pastor, Padre Jorge, added a wireless microphone to the church so I was able to preach the homily from in front of the sanctuary rather than behind the ambo (the lectern for proclaiming the Scriptures). I was happy to be untethered and unboxed...I'm freer out there in front; I have long felt that in that position there is nothing between the people and me and that animates me in preaching, and so it was this morning. The theme of the Gospel reading today from Matthew (Matt. 4:12-23) was a good one to begin this ministry with: the call of Jesus' first disciples, Simon (Peter) and Andrew, James and John. That calling, "Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men (and women)!" echoes still even here, especially here today. The four fisherboys' instinctive and immediate response, leaving their boats, nets, and even families, seemed like a particularly appropriate Gospel story for a bunch of folks who have left their homes and families and found themselves in this land not of their birth. Did we just bumble our way here or have we in some way or another followed Jesus here? I shall ponder that question in the coming days; at least for me, I feel myself having been called. "Come" is a very powerful word.
Following Mass, many of us gathered for brunch at a local restaurant not far from the church, Yakumama; there, around another table, the seeds of a great community of faith were visible as we chatted, laughed, sipped coffee, ate our eggs benedict, and became sisters and brothers. Afterwards, three of us, Richard, Taylor, and I, walked home along the Rio Tomebamba; the sun was shining, a blessing after a week of much rain, the roar of its waters rushing over rocks and under bridges, the families picnicking on the parkways along the riverbank, all served to remind me that all of this is good, very good, as the opening verses of Genesis, not to mention the praises of the Psalms, and many holy people from the past, have reminded us. It is good to be here, in this universe, in this world, in this land-not-my-own, along this river, with these people. The voice of the Lord is in the rush of the river and it sings: "Come, follow me..."
There will be a lot to do in supporting this community as it seeks to grow. We'll go about it gently, organically, patiently, and with lots of room to adapt and adjust and try something different as needed...pastoring by the seat of our pants. It'll be fun. Or better: it will be good because it is what our Good Creating God has given us from the beginning, and our Jesus has called us to do in this land-not-our own through his words today: Come, follow me!