Quito, Ecuador {Part 1}

Thursday, February 26

The only thing I knew about Quito prior to embarking on this trip, was that it was the capital of Ecuador, and that it sat at 9,350 feet {talk about being out of breath, haha!} But…what I learned about Quito made me a total believer of this incredible city. Armed with our guidebook, and more importantly our awesome local guide Alicia {who is a former President's daughter…so if anyone knows about this city, it's her!}, we set of to experience this historical town.

First thing to know about Quito is that it has the largest, least-altered, and best-preserved historic center in the Americas {eye-candy to explore!}. Random tidbit, but Quito was the first site (along with Krakow, Poland) to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978. Fortunately, in the last few years the government has funneled enormous amounts of money to restore the historic center, and for that we were very grateful! 

Since we were staying at Casa Victoria, we started our walking tour at the base of the Panecillo (which is a 200 meter high hill, with the statue of the Virgin Mary atop it…see the picture above!). But this would be a great place to start any walking tour! Avenida 24 de Mayo is a popular street to soak in the sites, and is on the way towards the main plazas. 

Strolling past Av 24 de Mayo, you'll wind your way to the first of the great Plazas... Plaza San Francisco. The majestic building that stands in the middle of the plaza is Inglesia San Francisco, and is the oldest colonial edifice in the city and the largest religious complex in South America! According to our guidebook, it was begun on the site of an Inca royal house within weeks of the city's founding in 1534, and the first wheat grown in Ecuador was sprouted in one it's courtyards! 

Just down the way from Plaza San Francisco is La Ronda, one of the best-presevered colonial streets in Old town. Alicia was telling us how this area used to be very dangerous, but has been restored and is now lined with cafes and art galleries! Score! 

We then wandered further towards the main square of the historic district…Plaza Grande. On the way there, you'll see the Central Bank, which is now a museum you can explore.  In Quito Part 2, I'll be showing you the full spread of pictures from Plaza Grande, including the Palace where Alicia and her father worked during his presidency!!

A Life Giving Birthday Tradition // The Tradition Series

Wednesday, February 25

I am so excited to kick off my series on traditions! If you missed this post, then I'll let you in on a little secret….I have a huge passion for incorporating traditions into our lives!! I believe so deeply that the sacred rhythms of every day and special events can bring the family closer, and cultivate incredible memories. My parents did such an remarkable job at making the ordinary so special by marking it with a family tradition. 

And…because my birthday is in a week and a half {March 9th….mark your calendars…j/k…but not} I am super excited to share this tradition with you! Birthdays are so sweet because they allow us to celebrate the unique and special place a person has in our life. We get to breath life into others on their birthday…helping them to see how valuable and loved they are. 

This first submission for a tradition comes from sweet Rachel. Here is her family's tradition: 

"I believe there is great power in words, and we can use this power to strengthen or harm others. As humans, we can be our greatest critic, and the words of others can solidify our insecurities or be used to defeat them. Because of this, my family takes time on every birthday to do "life-giving." This is a time set aside to encourage, bless, honor, and love the birthday girl or boy. 

The time is used to say what we find true about the individual or how we see God revealed in their life. We speak truth about what God has for him/her for the next year, and how we saw God's handiwork in the past year of life. We celebrate the life lived and how grateful we are for his/her place in this family. After each person has said their piece, we then take time to pray for the individual. We pray for growth, joy, adventure, and peace in the new year of life. 

I love this intentionality and how we come together as a family to love one specific individual. This tradition grows depth of relationship in my family and makes space to honor one specific person. We all have busy lives, and we don't always get to spend intentional time with each other. This guarantees once a year every person is encouraged and blessed! "

Hello! My name is Rachel Heckmann. I am married, 23 years old, living in Northern California, and seeking to live my life giving glory to God. I recently took a leap of faith to start my own photography and calligraphy business! If I am not working, you can find me outdoors, baking, running, drinking coffee with a friend, or cuddling my niece. I love my family and wouldn't be who I am without them. 
Blog // Instagram: @rawheckmann// Pinterest // Facebook // Email: hello@rachelallene.com

When Kevin and I lived in Nepal and worked at an aftercare home for girls rescued from sex-trafficking, we couldn't believe that none of them had ever celebrated a birthday before. I can remember one very distinct birthday we threw for a precious girl. We wore party hats, baked a cake, wrapped presents, and threw confetti. At the end of the day, we all went around and shared what we appreciated about her. She started to sob at the end of the sharing, and said that she had never felt so much love in her life. It was such an incredible moment to be a part of. To read more about another party we threw for one of our sweet Nepali girls, click here. 

I hope you can incorporate some life giving into your next birthday celebration!! I guarantee it will bless the birthday girl/boy in great ways!! 

If you want to submit a family tradition to Hope Engaged, I would love to hear it. Read more about how to submit here. 

Happy Wednesday! 

Casa Victoria // Quito, Ecuador

Monday, February 23

Kevin and I place a lot of value on making connections when we travel. For truly, relationships with others are the most beautiful thing in life. Every time we plan for an adventure, we ask around to see if anyone knows someone in the location we are traveling to {for more on culturally enhancing your travel, click here}.

With that being said, we were incredibly blessed to get connected with the most inspiring couple in Ecuador, and stay 3 nights with them in Quito! I'm not kidding when I say every moment with them was a huge encouragement in our faith and life, as we watched them so vibrantly serving others with laughter and joy! Let me introduce you to them…

Alicia grew up both in Ecuador and in the United States. Her father, who is an architect, eventually served as the president of Ecuador in the 1990's, and she served (without pay) as his assistant during his presidency. Thirteen years ago, Alicia and her husband Dan bought a dilapidated mansion house in a seedy part of town in Quito. While the mansion home had a great history, it had fallen into disrepair, housed almost 20 families all crammed into different rooms, and was covered in graffiti. Alicia could see past the crumbling walls, and imagined something greater for the house! 

The past thirteen years Alicia and Dan have slowly restored the gorgeous home. Not only have they transformed this colorful refuge, but they have opened the doors wide for the community, and named the dwelling Casa Victoria. Almost every day of the week, Alicia and Dan open their home to 60 children to come for an after school program and a meal. Alicia and Dan not only run the after school program, but also cook the food for the children. Here is a couple that could easily be retired and living the "good life" and instead they choose to serve God and love others in the most amazing way!

Kevin and I spent three days with Alicia and Dan (and Jorge, who helps them out!). We were humbled by their deep service to the country they love. Yes, they are tired, as they so faithfully serve the children and parents in the neighborhood. Yes, they are tight on money almost every day. But they trust a God who provides for their every need {their stories of God's provision at the last moment sent chills down my spine…this is living with FAITH!}. Not only has the house been transformed, but the neighborhood as well. Children who could not get help with their homework are now receiving tutoring and beginning to excel in school. They are experiencing the love of Jesus through a couple that each day gives love away freely, in a hug, a meal, a smile, a safe place to play and learn and just be children. They also have one of the only lending libraries in all of Quito! Children are now able to check out books and enter the magical land of literature at home! 

Alicia has so many dreams for Casa Victoria…to open a coffee shop where local college students can come and study…to open a pizza stand that could help fund the ministry of Casa Victoria. As Alicia showed us around the house, I couldn't help but stand in awe at the way God plants dreams so deep within each of our hearts, and how amazing it is that God works in powerful ways when his people pray. 

And the exciting part about Casa Victoria is that it might be the perfect place for YOU? If you are interested in possibly volunteering at Casa Victoria, please email Alicia at info@casavictoria.org . They are looking for a few people to come and help them for an extended period of time. Love kids? Speak Spanish? Have any business interest in helping get the coffee shop started? Speak Spanish? This might be the perfect opportunity for YOU! {looking for both singles AND couples!!}

And if you are overwhelmed with joy by the work being done, consider giving to this great organization {here}. Enjoy the pictures and be encouraged at the way God works miracles when his people step out to serve Him!!! 

{side-note…Casa Victoria is absolutely gorgeous, and sits in the most incredible little piazza in Quito. The view from the steps of Casa Victoria is unreal. You can look up and see the Panecillo, with the statue of the Virgin Mary towering high above! The inside of the house is traditional Spanish architecture, with a courtyard in the middle of the home, fireplaces dotting the rooms, and a library with a ladder! I kinda, maybe, sorta pretended to be Belle from Beauty and the Beast! ha}