From the California highways to the streets of Ecuador

Julie Cole | Jan 31, 2012
The Ackermann family  The Ackermann family The Ackermann family

Sometimes life’s unexpected twists and turns can lead to a good place.  Eric and Carla Ackermann know that firsthand.

The Briercrest College and Seminary alums have been serving in Quito, Ecuador where they work at Casa Gabriel, a Christian home for former street kids.  They are currently on furlough in the United States and will return to Quito the end of this month.

“We love being (at Casa Gabriel),” Carla said. “We love the boys we work with. It’s been good knowing that’s where we’re supposed to be.”

A few years ago, the couple wouldn’t have seen Ecuador in their family’s future.  After graduation from Briercrest, they had returned to California, Eric’s home, where he got a job with the California Highway Patrol (CHP).

Four years into the job, the unexpected happened.

“I was trying to catch up to a speeder,” Eric explained. “I was doing about 110 miles per hour (177 km) and somebody lane-changed me. I went up an embankment and rolled the car. I got air lifted and the whole nine yards. I spent eight days in the hospital and then a year recuperating at home on disability and then finally was retired based on my injuries.”

During the next five years the couple began to consider ministry opportunities. Carla began to pray for a ministry that their whole family could be involved in.

“We were looking into just ministry here in Fairfield (Cal.),” Carla said. “I had two conversations with teachers at schools here and they were schools that were kind of in the bad areas and they were saying how some kids came to school not having eaten – they may have slept in the car overnight.  So I was talking to Eric and saying, ‘You know, maybe I should go volunteer in those classrooms even though our kids don’t go there.”

Over time, that initial conversation continued to expand.

“Then we thought, ‘Well, maybe we should transfer our kids to those schools,’” Carla continued. “And then through more talking Eric said, ‘Well, maybe we should move into that area of town.’ So from there we felt like God was really opening our heart to more of a lifestyle of ministry. We pursued that and prayed about it, and it wasn’t happening, but it was still an undercurrent in our hearts.”

During that time their church had a missions conference.

“We had a speaker come from Ecuador who we sort of knew a bit and just through that missions conference at our church we both really felt that God was calling us to overseas missions,” Carla exclaimed.

The Ackermanns were accepted as missionaries with International Teams and were placed in Ecuador at Casa Gabriel.

“All the boys (at the home) at one time lived on the street – estranged from their families for whatever reason,” Eric explained. It is a program where the boys want to be there.  They have to apply. They have to get their families to ask if they can be there so that means they have to recontact their families . . . if possible. They live in the house; they go to school – tutoring, service projects, all that kind of stuff. It’s part of the deal.  It’s more hands-on discipleship type life training as opposed to just share the gospel and see you later sort of thing.”

Casa Gabriel currently has 11 young men between the ages of 16 and 20. Some have had very little education.  Finding schools that are willing to take the boys can be a challenge.

“Some of the boys couldn’t read when they got to (Casa Gabriel),” Eric said. “So you can’t just throw them into the local high school. We have nine boys in four or five different schools right now.”

The boys at the home go on ministry outreaches where they may share their testimonies, entertain the audience with break dancing or present a movie.  Eric speaks about his experience at a ministry event in a jungle town where there was no Christian church.

“We were able to get access to the little soccer gym,” he said. “One evening we showed a movie. There were about 50 kids. I noticed this man across the door curiously looking into the building, so I went over and I started talking to him, introducing myself in my limited Spanish and I asked him if he wanted to come in and watch the movie. He said he would love to.”

After the movie, Eric wanted to speak more with the man about Jesus, but found it slow going with his limited Spanish speaking skills.

“While I’m doing this, one of the boys who couldn’t read when he came to Casa Gabriel and wouldn’t stand up in front of 15 people because of shyness just came and sat next to the old man and introduced himself and just started sharing Jesus with him.”

Eric was able to see the results of Casa Gabriel’s investment in this young man’s life.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he exclaimed. “The pride you have of ‘Wow, these boys are pretty amazing.’ Watching this shy kid of 17 who academically is a sophomore when he should be a senior – he shared Christ and led the man to Jesus.”

Although the Ackermann’s commitment to Casa Gabriel is just one more year, they feel they have found a good ministry fit for them and their four children, ages ranging from six to 13.

“(The kids) have transitioned very, very well,” Carla said. “I’ve often been amazed by how well it’s gone.”

“In our minds, it’s pretty much until God tells us to go somewhere else,” Eric exclaimed.

With this commitment, however, comes the hope that in the next two years they can empower and inspire more Ecuadorians to have a passion to reach out to their own people.

“We are strong believers in working yourself out of a job,” Carla said. “The best people to reach others for Christ are their own people.  The boys have kind of gone from the street culture to the North American because the people who are working with them are all North American and they need Ecuadorian culture.  We want to come in, empower the people, train . . . and then get out so (the Ecuadorians) can take over themselves. It seems to make so much more sense to have local people do the ministry.”

More information about Casa Gabriel can be found at www.youthworld.org.ec.  Click on Street kids.