Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
August 13, 2000

What business does a country preacher have in South America?

Sunday morning in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, in faraway South America!

By then we will have spent a whole day and two nights in this fine city, having flown out of Atlanta, with a brief stop in Houston, this past Friday. So what is a country preacher, an old one at that, doing way down here?

Actually Quito is not our final destination. We expect to travel by bus today to Shell, where we will work on a construction project for five days. Then we will make our way back home by returning the same route.

Shell is the base of operations for a group of missionaries on assignment with an organization known as MAF, or Missionary Aviation Fellowship. MAF is a global operation with bases all over the world. As the name implies, the main business of MAF is to help people in need through the use of airplanes, pilots, mechanics, and other service personnel.

Our connection with MAF's work in Shell is Sandy Toomer, a pilot. He and his wife, Trish, and their children have lived there for several years since choosing to become a missionary family. Our Trinity church family is one of the biggest supporters of the Toomers, who must raise all their support from churches and individuals.

So what will we be doing? We expect to continue the work others have begun in constructing another room for the base's school. Most projects are a joint effort with other mission work teams; one team takes up where another team leaves off. Another team from our church, 21 persons including several college students, worked at Shell for a week last month.

Our team will be the third team Trinity has sent to Shell. I am eager to find out why everyone who goes down there comes back ready to return. Dr. Joe Spano, of the Auburn Vet School, was on last month's team, along with his three sons. He said to me, "Pastor, you cannot imagine what a great time you will have down there!"

This will be my second trip to South America. My wife and I flew down to Brazil in 1996 when our church sent us to attend the World Methodist Conference. The worst part of such a trip is the long flight there. With knees like mine it is difficult to sit still for several hours. After four or five hours I am begging for mercy, and asking that anxious question my children used to ask a hundred times on a long trip, "Are we there yet?"

Where is Ecuador? It is south of Colombia, fronts on the Pacific Ocean, with Peru to the east and south. It is about the size of the state of Nevada with a population of about 13 million people, mostly Indian and Spanish. The religion is mostly Roman Catholic.

Ask what the country produces and the answer, to no one's surprise, is bananas, coffee, cocoa, tapioca, sugarcane, cattle, balsa wood, etc. The main things exported are bananas, shrimp, fish, petroleum, and cut flowers. It was a surprise to me to learn that most of the roses sold in the United States come from Ecuador. Down there a dozen can be purchased for less than a dollar!

My preacher buddy, Jimmy Allen, brought back three dozen red roses to his wife, Anita. After learning that he spent less than three dollars for them, I imagine she asked, "What else did you bring me?" Ask Claude Brown why a dozen roses cost so much in Opelika and he would probably tell us that the shipping charges are unbelievable. Or perhaps he would have a speech about "whatever the traffic will bear."

Though I expect this to be a marvelous trip, I have an idea that, like everyone else, I will come back saying to my dear wife, "There really is no place like home!"