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By Danielle Norris

It is almost two o’clock in the afternoon on Christmas Day here in Manta, Ecuador. Soon there will be a grand venue called Lúpulo BeerGarden that will open its doors, and the hearts of many, to celebrate Christmas together. Almost 150 guests are on their way to gather, to celebrate with one another, and to commemorate a very purposeful event.

With its beautiful décor and warm staff, Lúpulo Beer Garden welcomes its guests from far and wide. As they step through the threshold amidst twinkling lights, ambient Christmas music can be heard, coaxing partygoers into the holiday spirit. Tasteful and elegant place settings are meticulously laid out and Christmas cards are strung nostalgically to enhance the joy of the season. But this is no ordinary Christmas dinner. This particular dinner has a clear purpose…this dinner is bringing people together for a cause that is near and dear to a

group of individuals that are the epitome of kindness and generosity, which is exactly what Christmas is all about!

“We want to become a central pillar for community involvement. We are inspired with the work being done with Shekinah and all the hard work and generosity of those who attended the event”-Ryan Hood, owner of Lúpulo

Collaborating in the background and initiating this event was Julie Harper and her Board of Directors for the Shekinah Foundation. Julie is Manta’s most hard-working community champion, and along with the wonderful members of the Board, they were able to put this

special event together.

On the Board is Marcos Chiluisa, Marlon & Sharon Statema, Matto Woodall, Robin & Steve Wright, Gary Meeds, and Ryan Hood.

Along with Julie, the board got together to brainstorm how they can unite people in our community, by having a function that would inspire hope, change, and prosperity for a foundation that seeks to aid displaced children in Manta. I will say that no matter where you are spiritually, what was able to form and happen with the level of success that was achieved, and in the short period of time they had, can only be described as a miracle.

In less than a month an idea took form, the venue was established, and the invites were sent out. The dinner was marching ahead, and it was all for the Shekinah Foundation. The Shekinah Foundation is a center for displaced children and is the only one of its kind here in Manta. Upwards of 30 children live there, and they are desperately in need of help. These children have been abused and/or abandoned, but thankfully they have a place to stay at Shekinah. Our community helper Julie has seen firsthand the devastation that these children have lived through and knew she had to answer the call. It was not an easy job, but that woman has tenacity. She will not stop until she achieves her goals, and boy did she ever!

“After I did my tour of Shekinah, I was heartbroken because they are operating under the radar and are struggling. I felt I was tapped to do something, but the hardest part of raising money is raising awareness, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”- Julie Harper

To have this become a success, it takes a lot of people, and a lot of love. Even when it seemed that there was not going to be the turnout that Julie was hoping for, she did not stop fighting. Persistence won, and our community of both expats and locals were able to give and receive that day. For those that couldn’t afford tickets, donations were made. For those that could not attend or were not even in the country, tickets were purchased…it sold out!

In terms of entertainment, musicians picked up their instruments and played their hearts out. One of the best and most precious gifts was a performance by the children’s band from Shekinah called, “Tesoros de Rey,” which translates to "Treasures of the King.”

Music was also provided by Mantas Blues Project run by Reid Scott Anderson, and on the Saxophone was Alejando “Alex” Izaguirre. Alex is an extremely talented sax player, and he filled every inch…and every soul with his music. The energy was everywhere. Following the dinner was dessert and a silent auction where you could bid on the donation of services that came pouring through from the hearts of many. Happy to say that 100% of the proceeds of the dessert sales and silent auction went directly to the children’s needs.

“Over $2000 was raised in the silent auction alone,” said the representative from the foundation, Sydney Spires. Her faith and dedication to the children are bar none. She was overwhelmed with the number of people present and the financial assistance that was the product of the selflessness of our community. The total raised between the silent auction, desserts, and percentage from the dinner is an amazing $3126.81. Shekinah also has gained $350 a month of sponsorships for children which totals $4,200 a year! Due to the dinner bringing this awareness to the community, private donations are trickling in as well.

“Thank you to everyone who came out to the Christmas dinner, to those who purchased or donated tickets, to anyone who sponsored a child, and for participating in the silent auction. The dinner was an opportunity to pause and reflect on the important things around us. It left all of us at Shekinah feeling seen and cared for. On behalf of the Shekinah Foundation, THANK YOU! What a huge blessing. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, God Bless!”- Sydney Spires

When people come together, it is fire. It started with the spark of a beautiful idea, then little bits of flint were scraped ever so carefully, lit by people like Ryan Hood, fanned with the fire of the community, and now we have ignited a burning flame that will hopefully turn into a lasting blaze. To have such a turnout and see guests from all over this great Province of Manabí come together in an inspiring way to eat, sing, and dance as one big joyous family…that my friends is what Christmas is all about!


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