Last night I woke up to go to the bathroom and when I went to lay back down in bed all I remember is I wasn't totally asleep when everything started shaking and I mean REALLY shaking. It was the strongest earthquake I have ever experienced so far. I remember hearing my comp scream and luckily, we have felt inspired to spend the last few days sleeping on the floor next to the door just in case this were to happen. I remember seeing the front door and through its cracks the hall lights started flickering. It felt like a roller coaster ride but no it was just the earth shaking. I still had my sheets somehow twirled up around me as I crawled as fast as I could to get under my desk. I thought "holy cow this is big one!" My toes wouldn't fit under my desk and in my half asleep startled mine I started to get really worried that if the wall fell it would crush my toes so I was awkwardly trying to adjust myself under the desk to fit better while everything was still shaking. I've learned there are 2 types of earthquakes one where you feel like you are in the wave pool at 7 peaks and the other where it just just shakes really fast up and down and up and down. Well that's what this earthquake was like it was shaking super-fast up and down and up and down and then after a little it turned into the wave pool one so boy was I dizzy! Everything was pitch black and all you could hear was all types of alarms going off outside.
Finally, it came to an end and I asked my companion through the desks "are you okay?" She said "yeah." We live on the 2nd story so we quickly put on our shoes and grabbed our bags and got out of there as fast as we could. When we got outside it was so dark outside because the lights all went out. You could just hear people yelling and running to the park with their flash lights. I've had a flash light my ENTIRE mission that has worked great but the one actual day I needed it the batteries died. haha. Anyway, so we are walking to the park when we saw Elena's stroller. We ran over to her and when I went to hug her she was bawling. She was so scared and her kids too. I sat on the sidewalk with her and sang “I am a child of God” while I rubbed her back and my companion called our leaders.
They told us we had to get to the church in Esmeraldas as soon as we could because it was the missionaries meeting point for our zone. The city I live in is called Atacames. It is right on the beach but it’s about 40 - 60 minutes away from Esmeraldas in a bus. We realized we had our personal emergency bags but we left our mission emergency bag with all the food and water so we stood up to go back in and get it when there was another earthquake. At this point, Elena left with her uncle and we went to go find these members who own a car.
We got to where the members live and they were all crying. I really felt like I was in a movie. Buildings were falling apart, houses collapsed, water pipes broke, alarms going off, lights going on again and off again, with random twinkling Christmas lights. We sang hymns with the little kids because the earthquakes kept coming all night long we didn't get to Esmeraldas until 7 am this morning. I have been awake since 2:30 am. Our house has been damaged to the point where we will not be able to live here anymore. Our mirror shattered, the wall is breaking, pieces of the wall on the ground, the tops of our desks is a disaster, etc. We will be living here in Esmereldas and working in our sector during the day.
Pretty crazy way to start my last week in the mission but then again if it were normal it just wouldn’t be my mission haha :) I feel a lot of peace about all of it in fact I found myself laughing a lot today. Truly the best secret in life is a positive attitude. It's never going to go the way we want but that's the point it’s not about us! It's not about what we want it's about what the Lord wants. His ways are greater than our ways.
Well this is my last group email I will send as Hermana Israelsen because next week I will be traveling to Quito and won’t have time to write. I've never loved a place so much in my life. I have never fallen in love with a people as I have here in Ecuador. But I have also never cried so much, never hurt so much, never fallen so many times to my knees pouring my soul out to God in prayer. A mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.
There is a song that came into my head this week by one republic that says "I lived it all!" I truly did live my mission the good the bad the ugly and the beautiful. It was the worst of times and the best of times but He never left my side and I promise He will never leave yours. If you learned anything from me and my mission I hope that it’s this "you are never alone." I testify Jesus is the Christ and He is your Savior.
It's weird to leave home to go home. To leave family to see family. My heart aches having to say goodbye to this part of my life but also bursts from joy for a life that is only just beginning.
I love you all. Thank you for your prayers and support through this wonderful journey.
Oh, PS guess who got baptized. ELENA!!!!! That is a story for another day and another time well when I actually have time to tell it but only got a few minutes left to write here. Thank you for all your support. I know this is God’s work to save His children. To save you and to save me. In my setting apart blessing it said "you will see miracles literally." I never imagined the biggest miracle would be me. I am not the same girl I was a 1 year in a half ago. I will come home a different Gabi or maybe more Gabi then I have ever been but I will always carry the lessons I have learned here in Ecuador as "Hermana Israel? Israelensen no Israelsen!" (no one can say my name here).
Please remember you are never alone,
Con amor, for the last time Hermana Israelsen :)
PS does anyone know what happened to Hermana Ching Chong??