When Ricky Lytle left Dartmouth College in January of 2021 for his Winter term, his intention was to try his hand teaching kayaking in a different culture as well as to assist with some mission work on the edge of the Amazon. While his goals were clear when he arrived in Ecuador, Ricky wasn’t entirely sure where to begin. He found himself in a culture foreign to his life experience with a considerable language barrier. He was a whitewater kayak instructor conspicuously missing gear to teach more than one student at a time and he didn’t have a single student to teach. Despite these obvious hurtles, Ricky pressed in, trusting in the Lord that the experience was bound to bear fruit even if he did not yet have a firmly established plan.
Needless to say, Ricky was surprised on his first day in South America when the father of his host family took up his cause to teach kayaking and made personal invitations on Ricky’s behalf. This zealous host-father even brought Ricky before the mayor of El Chaco (his town of residence) to explore options of future cooperation with Dartmouth for more students to visit.
As relationships grew in El Chaco, opportunities began to appear for Ricky to teach. Teaching whitewater kayaking is a tough endeavor even when you share the same mother-tongue, and it’s especially difficult in a foreign language. Nonetheless, Ricky learned the way on the way. By the end of his class, he had three guys running class 3 whitewater. Even now, Ricky’s students are sticking with it and improving! While watching his students grow in their kayaking skills was immensely gratifying, Ricky encountered a much more fundamental truth while teaching in Ecuador. The more time he spent working with youth in El Chaco, Ricky realized that his students were more grateful for Ricky’s time and presence than any hard skills he passed on.
Ricky emphasized how awesome it was to watch God provide for his trip. He touched down in Ecuador with next to no plan and, one by one, all his concerns were provided for: kayaking gear was attained for the number of students who needed river provisions, the truck they used for river shuttling was just big enough to accommodate everyone and their gear, and his host-father turned out to be a man of strong faith and an advocate for Ricky’s work on the river. Stepping out in faith on this adventure proved that God was at work in so many little things at just the right time throughout his journey.
After nearly 5 weeks in El Chaco, Ricky left his beloved river crew to embark on the second part of his journey: an extended stay with a missionary family on the edge of the Amazon. The family resided in a little town called Chunta Punta. “People in Chunta Punta are not well off, but they have a house and family”, Ricky says. The Kiehl family welcomed him and he stayed with them for 3 weeks and learned about their way of life. During Ricky’s time with them, a few highlights were that they cooked a meal for the local townspeople and they also visited a community that was only accessible by trail or by canoe.
During their visit to this rural outpost in the Amazon, Ricky observed that the missionary family had a way of extending love through their presence and friendship. Ricky found it immensely satisfying spending time with the local people in the places they chose to hang out. “In that rural town,” Ricky said, “loving people through a soccer game really can hit the spot”. In his time with the Kiehl family, Ricky realized that so much of ministry depends on presence.
Ricky is returning to South America this Christmas to visit his friends and, you guessed it, go kayaking with his former students!
When asked what he would pass on to others in the camp family after his adventure, Ricky shared the following advice:
- If you’re at camp, get good at a certain skill and you can use that as a way to connect with others all over the world.
- When you travel, don’t travel where everyone else goes. In order to experience a culture, go where the tourists aren’t.
- I arrived in uncertainty, but the Lord opened up tons of opportunities. Let Him Deliver. It’s an opportunity to trust God so much more and to let him deliver.
- Leave a lot of uncertainty and trust that God’s going to come through. That uncertainty leaves space for him to do that.
- Be uncomfortable. There were so many moments where I spoke with others and I was uncomfortable throughout the experience. But they could see that I cared even without my language skills being overly proficient.
- I witnessed an entire family taking an entire day off of work and school to go visit the grandfather who lived 3 hours away. Take the trouble to visit family and loved ones even when it’s a sacrifice to do that.
- I experienced a freedom from reliance on material things. We may be tempted to think, “Without all these possessions, how can anyone have hope?” But Jesus works in powerful ways all over the world through our faith primarily and not through possessions.
- Watch how your camp counselors love others and imitate them. A lot of how I taught others and encountered others on the trip comes from watching other camp counselors and following good examples.