Part II: Purdys Meet Ecuador
Back in the U.S., the Purdys emailed every missionary and traveler friend in their contact for location advice — preferably where they could open a hostel for backpackers and travelers. Ninety percent of the responses named Ecuador as the place to be, so, in November of 2016 the family booked a one-way trip to the Land of Eternal Spring.
Their exploration of Ecuador found Baños de Agua Santa to be the perfect location. Baños de Agua Santa means baths of holy water in Spanish. The name originates from the hot springs flowing near the base of the active Tungurahua volcano. Year round, this beautiful town teams with backpackers and travelers, and, as an added benefit, is nestled in a sub-tropical valley.
They were welcomed by a local pastor and offered an apartment rent-free by a local woman until they could find a place of their own. A Baños-local even said their church had been praying for an English-speaking family to come share the Gospel with non-Spanish-speaking backpackers. Although, Baños was not where the Purdys thought they’d end up, Donna said they knew it was where they were meant to be.
Life in tropical Baños, however, quickly became an uphill battle. Moving during the rainy season and not owning a car meant walking to Spanish lessons in the rain. Their first apartment had no windows, furniture, refrigerator or internet, and their children were very unhappy. Finally, a plethora of spiritual attacks and lack of a deep community spelled disaster.
Furthermore, it took nearly two years of searching for a building until they found the current location of Gringos Café — though, the way it came together in the end is miraculous.
“We sat down for a family meeting and decided if we didn’t have anything by May we would leave,” Sterling said. “But an hour later, our friend William called and said, ‘I found a space for a café! I need you to come right now, it’s a good price.’”
After months of renovation and preparation, Gringos Café officially opened in June of 2019. The soft colors, shiplapped walls and mouthwatering food — not to mention the impeccable customer service — quickly placed Gringos Café as the Trip Adviser no. 1 restaurant in Baños de Agua Santa.
Donna said they had to give up what they thought their lives would look like and instead trust God in the midst of uncertainty.
“It’s kind of dangerous territory to ‘what if’ God,” she said. “His paths are higher, bigger and grander, if they weren’t, why would we be following? But we don’t need to understand, just follow, obey and trust.”
Since the opening of Gringos Café, the Purdys have met many travelers while breaking bread together. Donna said they’ve noticed a difference between vacationers and travelers. Travelers want to soak in the culture, and are often on a quest of self-actualization, making them open to deeper conversation. Vacationers are usually there to unwind and move on.
The Purdys plan on showing the love of Christ to everyone in their lives through conversation and an open table.
When they explain their mission to non-believers, and even some believers, however, they are met with confusion. Donna said so many people ask incredulously, “No, but what are you doing?”
The Purdys are expected to say building a school or digging a well, and while those are noble causes, it seems many believers have lost the dire importance of sharing the Gospel. It is the doubt of others, however, that brought them into an important place of security with God. Donna said they now know they do not have to pitch themselves to others because, “where the Lord leads, He will also provide.”
Sterling said out of the many people they’ve met, so many have turned away from God because they’ve been hurt by the Church.
“People identify God through people, which is so flawed. We can look at Jesus and know God, and He is none of the things people typically run from,” Sterling said. “People are running from religion and rules and judgmental people.”
While life in Baños has improved drastically since 2016 — they have a beautiful home with tropical fruit trees and faith-community — the Purdys still have their hearts set on New Zealand. Another international move has now been made seemingly impossible by the COVID-19 pandemic, but no matter which doors open and which close, they will faithfully follow God around the globe and open their table to those they meet.
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