I had the privilege of visiting Ecuador in April for the first Mass and blessing of San Miguel Arcangel church in a small town in the mountains. The church is a gift from my mother and me in thanksgiving to God for His Mercy, and the Franciscan Missions, who led up the construction, invited me down for two weeks to accompany them on their work.
We went to pretty much all the parts of the country: the mountains, the jungle, the coast, and the Galapagos Islands. For a small country, it has just about everything. In the mountains, where it’s always like spring, most of the people are descendants from the indigenous Indians and Incas. In the jungle and on the coast, where it’s always hot and humid, the folks are mixed with Spanish decent. On the islands, like a vacation resort, the locals are mixed with Spanish decent, but there are also a lot of tourists. It’s like 4 countries in one.
We did a lot of traveling. In 2 weeks, when it was all said and done, I had taken 10 plane rides (plus one flight in an 8-seater), 4 boat rides, 2 taxi rides through the mountains, a gondola trip up and down a 14,000-foot mountain, 4 car rides, a snorkeling trip, some swimming, and 42 – yes, 42 – van rides.
But there was something that I found the same everywhere.
Yes, fruits. Large ones, small ones, yellow, green, red, all sorts of colors. New fruit drinks would appear in front of me at every meal. All of them delicious. We picked fresh bananas from the tree, and even one time our driver once stopped to pluck some tarty fruit from a tree on a street corner.
Now I don’t remember the names of them – there were so many – so I can’t tell you what they’re all called. But I can say that they were all good.
Well, at the church blessing, during the offertory of the Mass, the people brought up baskets of fruits. For me. Now, in one of the baskets was a large green thing. A few stares from the locals admiring its size. What is it?
Let me tell you, this fruit is so good, they have it after dessert. When you’re done with the pie and ice cream, then they bring out the guanabana. And after your tongue has been trained on pie and ice cream, it still tastes good and sweet.
Well, the night after we got the big guanabana, I was poured a glass of guanabana juice. I drank some, put my glass down, and turned to the man sitting next to me – another American. I said with all sincerity, “That is the best glass of fruit juice I have ever had in my life.” The man, a professional optometrist, was stunned. “You just took the words right out of my mouth. I was just about to say the exact same thing to you.”
Now, why am I going into all this detail about fruit? It’s because the fruits reveal the people.
You see, I was completely taken care of on this trip. I received such hospitality and generosity and patience and kindness wherever I went. Hotels, rides, cooking, friendship. There were no attitudes, but there was a lot of simplicity. I was so amazed and impressed and grateful. And I know that I could never have survived all that travel without it.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal 5:22-23)
I love Ecuador. It’s not a major world power, or a big player in the world economy. It’s a little country, hardly on the map. It doesn’t contribute grand things on the global stage. It’s not a “results” culture.
But it gives the world its incredible fruits.
To be Christian, to have the Heart of Christ, we can’t be the major power or the big player in the crowd. We’re not going to be the ones contributing grand things to our neighbors. We are not “results” people. We are going to be little. And we are going to give our neighbors hospitality and generosity and patience and kindness. We are going to give our neighbors our love. We give them our incredible fruits.
I love the people of Ecuador, I love their hearts. It was no surprise to me later when I found out that Ecuador was the first country in the world to consecrate itself to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. After two weeks, I already knew the people.
Because there was something that I found the same everywhere.
“You will know them by their fruits.” (Mt 7:16)