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Photo by Rachelle Klemme The Rev. Santiago and Blanca Gomezcoello of Cuenca, Ecuador are staying in Wadena until mid-June as Santiago is a guest pastor at Zion and Bethany Free Lutheran Churches.

From Ecuador to Minnesota

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A guest pastor and his wife from Cuenca, Ecuador are a hemisphere away as they are staying in Wadena for three months.

The Rev. Santiago and Blanca Gomezcoello started Easter Sunday at Bethany Free Lutheran Church in Bluegrass and Zion Free Lutheran Church in Wadena. The two point parish holds services at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m., respectively.

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Santiago had gone to Norway before on invitation as a pastor as well, and has also traveled to neighboring countries Peru and Columbia.

"I really wanted a little break," long-time pastor Santiago said, adding that he had originally wanted to study at a Bible institute but eventually ruled that out because of expenses.

Wadena residents Dave and Karla Berger and their family had lived in Cuenca for several months and met the Gomezcoellos. Karla and Dave eventually asked if the Gomezcoellos would like to help the Free Lutheran congregations in Wadena and Bluegrass.

The Gomezcoellos have another west central Minnesota connection: all four of their kids attended Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in Fergus Falls for senior year. The youngest, Josue, is a graduating senior and his parents timed their stay in Wadena to be able to attend the ceremony in late May.

Blanca said they enjoy being in the Wadena area except for the weather.

"People are very open," she said. "But it's too cold for us."

"To be here is like a rest for us," Santiago said.

They said people here are kind and have a good Christian heritage.

Blanca said she enjoys visiting nursing homes, talking to the seniors there and meeting new people.

Santiago said he likes garden and farm work, because he is from a small farm background.

"We are learning a lot about the culture here," Santiago said.

They said that in Ecuador, people value meal times together with family.

Santiago said that people have told him it used to be like that here in the United States too, but with work schedules it is becoming less and less possible.

About 9,000 feet above sea level, Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador and has seen a recent influx of North American and European immigrants, particularly seniors. An April 17 article from U.S. News and World Report called it "The Best Place to Retire Overseas on a Budget."

"The weather is good, the view is beautiful," Santiago said. "We have about 150 lakes between the mountains, and the rivers are coming from that area and crossing the city."

He said people also cite relative safety and more natural food as their reasons for wanting to live there.

The Gomezcoellos said people from Minnesota shared the gospel in Cuenca about 60 years ago, and now from Ecuador they are sharing in Minnesota.

"Thanks for this privilege and the opportunity to be here," Blanca said.

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