Prepared for a lifetime

From Ecuador onward:
BVS prepared me for a lifetime

By Jim Gibbel, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit #50

After graduation from Juniata College in 1960, I chose Brethren Volunteer Service as my  alternative to military service. Why? That’s what my church, Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, taught me!

The two-month BVS training at New Windsor, Md., was a thorough preparation for service, peace, and community—not for a BVS term, but for a lifetime. I remember that emphasis stressed by Dan West, a Brethren leader with us for one whole week of training. 

Because my mother was not well, and my father had died in 1959, I wanted to serve somewhere not far from home. Instead, I was called to Ecuador! Henry Long, Foreign Missions staff of the Church of the Brethren, visited me and encouraged me to go.

In July 1961, I began my BVS project in Llano Grande, Ecuador, an indigenous community located half an hour north of Quito, the capital, where the Brethren Mission office was located.

For two months I lived with a family in Quito to learn Spanish. After that my home was a simple, small house near the missionaries in Llano Grande, with water and toilet outside. I always joined missionary families for evening meals on a rotating basis. That was interesting!

I was treasurer/business manager of the Brethren Mission, consisting of five or six families and individuals involved in education, medical work, agriculture, raising chickens, and evangelism/church.

I’d go for supplies, take care of mail, shipment details, business matters; I’d transport students by truck back and forth every day to Quito for high school (as the Brethren school in Llano Grande was elementary only); I helped market poultry as that business developed; I helped build the church building with adobe blocks; and I generally participated in the life of the community, the church, and youth activities.

Living with these folks for two years, I felt a part of them! At my farewell celebration, the youth of the church presented me with a painting of Cotopaxi, the second highest peak in Ecuador. It had been done by a local artist, H. Moncaya, with signatures of the youth on the back.

What did I take away from my time in BVS? 
•   I learned Spanish!
•   I treasure lasting friendships with many missionaries.
•   Friendships and visits with wonderful people in my community of Llano Grande, including some who visited us in Lititz, and we visited them in 1994 and again in 2006.  
•   My limited view of life was changed immensely. I gained a deep appreciation and respect for other cultures and peoples, and for new experiences in this amazing world.
•   I gained a love of travel: I traveled alone in Peru and Chile one Easter, and at the end of my service in 1963, my brother John and I traveled home overland through Central America by public transportation. A great adventure! After Ecuador, I never stopped traveling until several years ago.
•   And since my assignment was with Brethren Mission, my love and dedication to the Church of the Brethren grew and continued my whole life.

After BVS, Jim Gibbel was a long-time insurance agency manager, now retired. He and his wife, Elaine, live at Brethren Village in Lititz, Pa.

This reflection was originally featured in the winter issue of
The Volunteer, a publication by Brethren Volunteer Service. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

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