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Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, Programs Manager Emily Norton reflects on an adventure in Ecuador which reassured her of God’s presence and companionship. 

“Su parada.” The bus driver abruptly stopped the bus and told my friend Tyler and me that this was our stop. We were on a standing-room-only bus so we could not look out the window to verify that this indeed was the stop we wanted. The entire bus was waiting for us gringos to quickly exit the bus.

The bus driver sped off, leaving Tyler and me on the side of a rural road two hours outside of Quito, Ecuador. Our destination was the renowned Papallacta hot springs.

There were no people in sight, no houses in the vicinity, and no markings that this was actually a bus stop. As we watched the bus curve down the steep mountain road, we both were visibly nervous.

One of the lakes

One of the lakes (photo credit: Tyler Sit)

We anxiously surveyed our surroundings and tried to figure out where we needed to head to find the trailhead. However, the landscape of the Andean grasslands was gorgeous and we looked at each other and started grinning in pure joy. I could not stop thanking God for His creation.

Chilly winds began to sweep across the hills and concerns surfaced in my mind that I left unvoiced…had we made a mistake in only wearing T-shirts, thin running sweatshirts, and windbreakers? It was in the 70s in Quito. Didn’t the guide book only say it was a little cooler here? I shivered and prayed to God that He would protect us.

Finally, we located what we hoped was the trail. The frigid winds continued and were joined by thick fog that enveloped us, preventing us from seeing anything in the distance.

Ironic since "mirador" means "lookout" in Spanish and you can't see anything due to the dense fog

Ironic since “mirador” means “lookout” in Spanish and you can’t see anything due to the dense fog

As much as I was trying to remain my adventurous self, my worries of our safety and wellbeing continued to creep up. However, every time I began to question whether we were actually on the trail, God would let us know we were going in the right direction.

Then the rain came. Freezing rain that pelleted us from all sides. At that point I had a towel wrapped around me, trying to keep my body temperature up. We finally started talking about heading back the way we came, but at that point we were sure we were closer to the hot springs than the road so we kept trekking.

And then we saw it! No, not the hot springs. God knew that was never meant to be our destination that day. We watched as the fog cleared and in its place a hut appeared. We literally leapt with joy and started running for it. I was so grateful for that roof and the makeshift walls!

We collapsed on the floor still shivering and started praying together in gratitude. It was a palpable joy we experienced from that comfort – yes, the roof was a relief, but God’s presence was the source of our true joy.

Sitting in the makeshift hut soaking, exhausted and hungry, but so full of joy!

Sitting in the makeshift hut soaking, exhausted, and hungry, but so full of joy! (Photo credit: Tyler Sit)

As I look back on that day years later, I am even more aware now of how God was protecting us from the various perils of that day. I now look at that experience as a metaphor for life.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

This verse from Psalms has become one of my favorites due to that unpredictable adventure in Ecuador. There will be numerous times when I feel like dense fog has prevented me from seeing God’s path for my life, when I feel desperately lost amidst the busyness of our modern world or when I feel like life’s icy rain and winds have pelted me from all sides.

I know, though, that during these times of uncertainty, fear and desperation, God is walking right beside me, protecting me and showing me the way. It is often easy for me to become overwhelmed during life’s challenges and crossroads, but I know that as long as I turn to God for refuge, I will receive a transformative overflowing of His comfort, love, and joy.

Question for reflection: During times of hardship or uncertainty, how do you find assurance and trust in God’s plan?

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