Nicole Watterson can't wait to get back to work in the tent she used as a church, in the slums she used as a classroom, into the sweltering heat that is Guayaquil, Ecuador.

The Brookings woman went on a month-long mission trip to the South American country last summer, teaching at a small school and evangelizing in the shade of a huge tent.

She plans to return this summer for nine weeks to work in the slums of Monte Sinai outside the burgeoning city of Guayaquil.

"I kind of expected 'city', and not so much rural," she said from her college in Texas. "But about 45 minutes outside where we were staying, the slum started. There's not enough room for people to build houses. They tap into electricity they can find. They're not allowed to be out there (outside city limits) but there's no way to control it."

The biggest shock was the number of children running amok.

"There are hardly any fathers," she said, noting that many children are the result of rape. "Hardly anyone grows up to leave that slum. They're tied down with their kids, there for the rest of their lives."

It was those little street urchins who grabbed hold of her heart.

Watterson was introduced to students at the Ebenezer School as a computer teacher - a topic she and the others with her realized was ludicrous to pursue in such poverty. When she turned around, the teachers were gone - and little brown eyes were staring at her in expectation.

She and two fellow travelers decided to teach English to some 400 students - kindergarten through seventh grade - in the morning and 350 in the afternoon.

"We just (improvised)," she said. "We made up games, songs, scripture verses. It was easiest to start with a game to get their attention. They're so curious; they loved English, loved repeating the words. I will never forget how God changed my heart through that experience serving there."

The students knew they went to Ecuador to evangelize, but it was so much more for Watterson.

"Yes, it was a mission trip; we went to evangelize, and we did it effectively," she said. "But to be able to help out in the community, show the love of God. It made a world of difference in their lives."

The trust was reciprocated with families taking them up on offers to babysit, walk kids home from school, clean their houses - just befriend them.

"They're a very hospitable culture. You're walking hut to hut, and they say, 'Come in! Come in! They were so hungry to know more. I've always known that there's something more and didn't know what it was. That's what I've been feeling was missing in my life."

Through their work, they were able to help change the life of a 16-year-old youth, who was drinking and abusing his mother, sister and brother.

"We ministered to him, and he came out of it," he said. "He's done with it. He's doing excellent. He's going to young adult Bible study. He just has that peace. Accepting God into his heart, he's a totally different person.

"These people, they just want to know more," she added. "You just have to tell them a little bit, and they want to know more."

Watterson, a 2011 graduate of Brookings-Harbor High School, is a student at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, majoring in bilingual education with minors in intercultural studies and Spanish. Among the university's goals is to send one student-led mission trip - about 30 each summer - to every country in the world, and to every province in India and China, by 2020.

In the beginning, Watterson was anything but excited about this foray into a Third World country.

"I didn't really want to," she admitted. "I was praying on it during a week-long fast: 'Lord, if you want me to go somewhere andhellip;' And then, as clear as day, so many things just pointed to it. I felt a sense of urgency that I should go."

That occurred on the last day of her fast, and after a Facebook "friend" sent her a message saying her school was going and that she felt Watterson should participate.

"I knew that I needed to sign up and go with my school trip," she said. "Everything fell into place; every detail."

She's hoping it will go as easily this time. Watterson needs $2,500 to attend the nine-week mission trip, this time on her own and not part of her university.

"I'm trusting the Lord to provide for me so that His will can be done," she wrote in a flyer to her church. "I also challenge you to trust Him in your giving."

Once there, she will again join missionaries Henry and Yvonne Smith who started the church Un Lugar de Esperanza.

The country is primarily Catholic, but many practice animism, a belief that nature - animals, plants, and often inanimate objects - possess a spiritual essence. Watterson found that intriguing.

"We learned a lot at school about different religions," she said. "But being there, first-hand, and seeing what they believe is completely different."

That's when she fell - hard - for the Latin American culture.

"I discovered that I'm really passionate about the culture," she said. "I love everything about it: the food, the people, the language, the culture. When you know, you know."

She's eager to get south of the equator, back to the people to whom she grew so close.

"Just doing what I'm passionate about," she said when asked what she most looks forward to. "To teach English to Spanish people and youth. They're going to be ecstatic when I just show up.

"But the message I want to get across to the youth of America is, 'You may know what you're supposed to do with your life, and God may have a purpose. Youth are scared to step out and do what they're passionate about. Why not now; why not start when you're younger? God can use you when you're 5 years old or when you're 80. You don't have to wait until you're already into your life to do what you're passionate about. I hope I can be an example in that area."

Donations can be made to Nicole Watterson, 1200 Sycamore St., Suite 7703, Waxahachie, TX 75165; or to her parents, Johnie and Kelly Watterson, either at the Calvary Assembly of God or to PO Box 6412, Brookings, OR 97415.