In the year 2000, I found myself in a great position in life: money, wonderful girlfriend, a beautiful condo, a great social life, a professional education and career in engineering, and athletic health. But I felt like I was missing something inside of me. I realized that a lot of my life had been self-centered, but there were moments where something more inside of me wanted to come alive. It was then that I began to experience God's mercy personally in Jesus, and things began to change. I started to dedicate myself to sharing that mercy that I had experienced, and that led to a lot of involvement in pastoral and outreach activity in and around where I lived in Boston. I wondered about being an ordained minister in the church, but that didn't seem like a fit.
In 2008, my mom Ruth went through her own changes of heart in the face of the breast cancer that had returned after 21 years of remission. I was able to accompany her in her last days and months. Later in 2009 I received a request from the Franciscan Missions to help them build a church for people who didn't have one. I had always felt close to Francis and this request really resonated with me. But my own funds were very low, and the donation would exhaust the entire inheritance that my Mom had left me. I put it aside. But the thought kept coming back, and finally the question came to me, "What if *I* didn't have a church?" With that, some barrier in my heart was changed, and I decided to give.
After the donation, I found out that the church would be built in Ecuador, and shortly afterwards it began to occur to me that my mother had really shared in the gift and was present in a special way there at the church. She had spent much of her life caring for her family, especially my disabled sister, and donating time and money for the poor and marginalized. I felt my Mom was there at that community in a special way, being a mother to the people, and I wanted to go and come to know them. I felt all of it was connected as well to my devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and so I went for the first time to Chontal, Ecuador in 2010 for the inauguration of the church with a group from the Franciscan Missions who had directed the construction.
After getting to know the church pastor in Chontal, he welcomed me for another 3 week visit in 2010 and another in 2011. In 2011, I welcomed my first visitor friend from the US. In the meantime, I had begun to get to know the Missionary Society of St. James, and in 2012 I was able to spend a month with the pastor from Chontal in Quevedo, Ecuador, and another month in one of the parishes of the St. James Society in Puerto Quito. Around this time, the name Barriers To Bridges was conceived as a name to describe the apparent mission and activities that were evolving. I returned to spend 2013 in Puerto Quito, and there really began my immersion in the culture.
In 2013, I began our first organized "bridge" between high-school youth from Ecuador and the Boston area, initiated a local language interchange group. I also began pastoral ministry, visiting isolated rural villages and teaching and preaching, visiting the poor and sick.
From 2014 to 2017, I spent half of every year mixed in a variety of locations, including
- Chontal, Cotacachi
- Quevedo, Quevedo
- Misahualli, Tena
- Mindo, Pichincha
- Quito, Pichincha
- Julio Moreno Espinosa, Santo Domingo
- San Antonio de Alao, Riobamba
- San Isidro, Sucre
I've been blessed to collaborate with many new friends and old, including the St. James Society, the Franciscan Missionaries of St. Joseph, many local priests, religious sisters, lay people, musicians, schoolteachers, members of the Peace Corps, missionaries from Family Missions Company, medical and law professionals, and many other ordinary, poor people from the fast-paced city to the simple rural life.
My local focus has been in accompanying people and communities as a brother in Christ. It includes pastoral and spiritual ministry, teaching and preaching, forming groups and new community-building activities in the church and in the local community, and simply supporting people in their lives. That idea of brotherly love inspired by Christ and sharing of oneself turns barriers into bridges, and extends across the hemisphere - facilitating the building of relationships bridges between the US and Ecuador.
In 2014, I initiated the first disaster relief fundraiser from the US for the people of Chontal, and in the same year began to assist in the school. In 2015, the first penpals between two young girls in Chontal and Boston began, and the first local English class was started for children. In 2016 we conducted the first spiritual retreat in Mindo for a group from Chontal, and we initiated the first fundraiser effort from people and parishes in the US for victims of the April earthquake. 2016 also marks the beginning of my accompanying immigrant Ecuadorian communities in Massachusetts.
In 2016, Barriers To Bridges was registered as a business entity in Boston, MA, to clarify an identity to the mission and to facilitate more collaboration with people and institutions.
In 2017, we facilitated the first international, charitable bridging effort between Ecuadorian communities in Massachusetts and Ecuador.
In 2018, we held our first immigration retreat with Latino immigrants in Boston. We are opening the door to more participation of native-born, US citizens locally in the Boston area, to focus on language and culture exchange in friendship, getting the word out with fundraising, and preparing for visits.