If I could describe Isla Punà in three words, it would be: rugged, tranquil and somewhat isolated.
Let me tell you a bit about this island. This island is about a 30 minute boat ride from the coast of Ecuador and is 330 sq miles (about 855 sq kilometers) in size. At the time, it had about 1,600 inhabitants and, how many witnesses? Two. There were two sisters who had the duty of going out in service everyday to preach to the locals. They had about 20-30 bible studies and it was to the point where they couldn’t offer any more because they were so swamped with bible studies. We were supposed to go and help them out and cover more of the territory they don’t always have time to cover. Now, hang on because this one’s going to be a wild ride!
We were prepared to stay there for one week. The plan was to commute to the city of Posorja which was a two-hour commute by bus… or buses from Ballenita. We would stay in Posorja for a day to go grocery shopping to have food with us during our week on the island.
In Posorja we met up with the two sisters who were living on the island, Sarita and Jeanette; another young sister, Paulina was also in our group. We hopped onto the mototaxi and spent a night at some of the brothers and sisters homes. They took such great care of us! We went to meeting that evening and the next morning we went out to preach for a bit with the congregation. This small city gave a different vibe. It was a bit more rugged but it had really neat views. Later that evening we went to the island.
Getting to the island was exciting! We settled in and separated into two different houses. Most of the time, however, we would spend in Sarita’s house eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, family worship and play games.
So, in every trip I’ve been on, there’s always been a low point. This can come in different ways to each person whether it’s the culture shock, frustration, the more humble ways of living, or something that you really can’t handle but exists and you feel completely helpless… “Low points” happened my first time in Paris, it happened in my last New York and Canada trip, it happened a few times around Europe, and yes, it happened on this trip as well. With all the anticipation ahead of us and all the fun we’d been having in Ecuador, my low point came the next morning. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call my “Jonah moment” disclaimer if you are an animal lover:
The island was dark at night when we arrived, so there was a lot we couldn’t see when we walked to the house we were to stay in. I separated from Tiff, Bree and BG and stayed in the other house with Ruthi, Ziv and another brother (Eric the first few days, then Jonathan the last few days). The next morning, we got up and got ready. We were supposed to walk to Sarita’s house to have breakfast and service meeting where we would also read the daily scripture together. Well, I went outside about ready to head over for breakfast and saw there were some cute animals in the pig pen. I greeted them and this super large pig wanted me to feed it fruit from the nearby fruit tree, so I did.
I turned around and there in the dirt was a hole that was used to burn trash (which is a common practice throughout latin america). In the hole there was a severely malnourished dog. She was asleep but I was sure she was dead. This was like a stab in my heart. How could anyone abandon their pet and let it starve to death? This only got worse when she woke up and wobbled away from me with the heaviest eyes. She was nothing but skin and bones and what made me even more depressing was the fact that she chose to lie down in the trash hole. It was where she normally was and it was as though she kept throwing herself away. She wouldn’t come near me. If I got close, she just kept wobbling away. I felt like she would break at any moment.
I’m tearing up as I remember that poor creature. I walked away and cried. It hurts me so much to see a helpless animal suffer so I prayed. I apologized to Jehovah because I felt like I couldn’t do it. That was only my first morning during the most defining part of the trip and I was already heart-broken. I told Jehovah that I felt frustration because I didn’t know if I could even help her. I felt helpless because surely she wasn’t the only one in that state and there was no way for me to be able to help her nor help any of the other animals I was sure to encounter. It would be very difficult for me to ignore this so I prayed and begged Jehovah to take over; to take away my frustration so that I could still be useful while I was there. After I prayed I wiped away my tears and walked over to Sarita’s house. Should I tell Tiff and Bree? I decided to just warn them to be ready.
So we went out in service that morning and then we went back to Sarita’s house to have lunch. After lunch, we were to go back out to a nearby territory.
It was during this time we encountered another doggy. She was also very thin and also wobbled. “Oh no” I thought. I felt more at ease this time, but I still worried and worried about Tiff and Bree. The doggy was a black lab and the worst part was that she wouldn’t stop following us around! It was painful to see her. The sight of her was torturing us. Sure enough, Tiff and Bree also began to hit their low points. The brothers and sisters who were joining us that day felt so bad for us as they were used to seeing that sort of thing. We were told earlier in the trip that Ecuador has one of the highest populations of stray dogs and though we’d seen them around, however we hadn’t seen them this thin. They looked like skeletons. It was hard to focus because the black lab wouldn’t stop following us, but we tried. We kept going. The interesting thing was that the doggy looked so happy to see us and wouldn’t stop wagging its tail. Why?
Before I continue, there are positives about low points from a trip. One is that the low point doesn’t last forever. Another is that low points end up teaching you something about yourself. After you reached the low points, things start to get a lot better after that.
The black lab ended up following us all the way to Sarita’s house. We were kind of hoping that Sarita and Jeanette would take pity and keep her. When Sarita came, there was a very delightful plot twist! As soon as she saw the dog, she tells her “Where have you been?” The dog immediately started to bark as though she was answering Sarita. We were shocked! Sarita knew her? Sarita told us “This girl used to be a pioneer! She went with us everyday to service and took care of us. Then one day she suddenly disappeared. We hadn’t seen her until now!” Her name was Dama (Lady) and Dama barked along to Sarita as though she were saying “Yes! Yes! It’s true! Sarita and I go way back!” This explains why she kept following us and why she seemed so happy when we were in service! She recognized what we were doing! And that, my friends, was how the sight of this doggy went from a pain in our hearts to a blessing because she stayed with us, took great care of us when we were in service and we fed her our leftovers.
To this day, I believe Dama was sent by Jehovah to keep us happy and positive so that we could focus on our ministry while we were on the island. There we were, first day crying our eyes out with broken hearts and right away Jehovah sent us this dog. Dama didn’t even seem to realize how malnourished she looked nor was she aware of how much she wobbled, she just showed up with this smile, a wagging tail and wouldn’t leave our side after that. She radiated positivity and was happiest following us going from house to house. She was focused and happy to be out there again fulfilling her doggy duties. There was a lot to learn from her.
Now the lesson here was that I could’ve easily given up. Just like Jonah, things weren’t going as expected. In the end it wasn’t about him, it was about the people. Going out in service and having these incredible experiences with the locals, having conversation after conversation. Reading scriptures and sharing videos all made me realize that the way I look at these helpless creatures starving for food, is the same was that Jehovah views the people there who are starving for the truth. Yes, I am vegan and I have compassion for animals and hope for their well-being, but I have always said, “I am one of Jehovah’s Witness first, vegan and everything else comes later”. My purpose there was to tell the people about God’s kingdom and by doing that, I am also supporting a kingdom that will no longer include any sort of suffering; after all, animals and all creation need the kingdom too.