Karen Yanchapaxi has a personal motto: “Focus on Jesus first and then work, because it is all for Him.”
Yanchapaxi, a retreat designer at El Refugio, a Christian training and retreat center in Calicali, Ecuador, recently spent time at Shocco Springs to observe and work alongside staff members there. Shocco and El Refugio are longtime ministry and missions partners.
Karen has a deep love for the Lord and a beautiful salvation story.
Born in Quito to a mother and father who were struggling in their rocky relationship, Karen had no Christian upbringing. By the time she was 9 years old, her parents were separated. Fortunately, Karen had a Christian aunt who invited her to Vacation Bible School.
She was fascinated by the speaker as he talked day after day about his “best friend.” His best friend was always there for him, was so easy to talk to and stayed with him through good times and bad times. It wasn’t until the last day of VBS that the speaker revealed the name of his best friend — Jesus. So at 9 years old, this brokenhearted little girl accepted Jesus as her best friend forever.
Karen immediately began praying for her family’s salvation. When Karen participated in the Christmas presentation at the church, her mother attended and accepted Jesus as her personal Savior.
She lived in Quito and began volunteering at the local camp, El Refugio, at the age of 15. At age 17, Karen’s desire was to become a pilot, so she learned English. However, when she applied for pilot school, she was turned down due to an eye condition that disqualified her as a candidate. Terribly disappointed, she wondered why God had put it in her heart to learn English. After He led her to El Refugio she realized God would use her English to serve His Kingdom in a different way than she had originally thought.
Earning an athletic scholarship, she attended Equator Technological University and graduated with her degree in advertising and communication. In 2019 she was given the opportunity to travel to China and take a business course on the Ecuadorian government and China partnership.
Soon after, she had an opportunity to study in Los Angeles. Before she had spent even a month in the United States, she had to return to Ecuador to care for her mother, who had broken several bones in an accident.
In her mid-20s at this point, Karen was still battling with unhealed hurts from the breakup of her family when she was 9 years old. She had virtually no relationship with her father and now her dream of living and working in the U.S. was shattered when she had to return to Ecuador to take care of her mother.
Depression hit hard.
Karen had been working with her El Refugio family since 2015, sometimes as a volunteer and sometimes as part-time paid staff. So when they learned of her deep depression, they invited her to come back to their campus and allow their staff to help her heal from her lifetime of issues stemming from her broken family.
The staff ministered to her and became her family. All the while she prayed that God would use her life to bring her family to the Lord. She was eventually offered the chance to work full-time with El Refugio, but she turned them down.
Change of direction
In February of 2022, Karen contracted COVID-19. She believes that God used that time to slow her down and work on her internal healing. It was then that her relationship with her mother was repaired completely. Having not seen her father in 13 years, Karen decided to take the “journey of forgiveness” with him, and now she has a very good relationship with her father.
During her illness and recovery, Karen realized that El Refugio was to be her next step. So in April 2022, she moved to Calicali to become a retreat designer for the camp.
“God used El Refugio to redeem my meaning of family,” Karen said.
As she worked alongside Shocco staff members in April, Karen’s camp family grew even larger. She worked with Shocco’s Lauren Cowart and the guest relations team, learning about the many options Shocco offers guests.
In addition to her work assignments, the team treated Karen to local attractions like Vulcan Park and Birmingham Botanical Gardens. She attended Easter service with Cowart’s family at their church and joined in all of the family fun afterward.
Shocco’s Giny Dial took Karen with her to church one Wednesday where she worshipped and participated in the service. She also enjoyed her first-ever Chick-Fil-A meal.
“I felt a strong spiritual connection with Karen immediately,” Dial said. “I know it was the Spirit of God in her connecting with the Spirit of God in me.”
Inviting Karen to work with the Shocco team and learn more about Shocco’s operation is yet another way Shocco is building the partnership with El Refugio, Shocco executive director Russell Klinner noted.
And Karen said watching the directors at Shocco serve alongside the employees reminded her of how Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.
“I love spiritual intention,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Laurie Mullinax and originally published in the Shocco Springs April 2023 email newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
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