A Solid Structure

Missions comes full circle in Ecuador

By and

On June 19, 2009, the Ecuadorian national C&MA church and U.S. and Canadian C&MA missionaries celebrated together in Guayaquil. Pastor David Muthre, president of the national church, gave thanks for the 112 years that C&MA missionaries faithfully labored in Ecuador. “I believe that as our missionaries finish their course in our beloved country, they can join with the apostle Paul in saying, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing’ [2 Tim. 4:7–8].”

We have been unusually blessed to have seen missions come full circle in Ecuador as the national church has developed from a missionary-receiving to a missionary-sending church. The journey has not been easy, but it has been tremendously rewarding.

Youth Conference Beginnings

During the summer of 1895, a youth conference was held in Crete, Nebraska. The speaker challenged the young people to become involved in world evangelization. He showed them a map of South America and told them that Ecuador was the only country on that continent that had not received the gospel of Jesus Christ.

After an all night-prayer meeting, three men—George Fisher, J. A. Strain and F. W. Farnol—sensed God’s call to take the gospel to Ecuador. After the necessary preparations, they went to New York City to apply for visas. When the Secretary of the Ecuadorian Consulate realized they were evangelical missionaries, he informed them that he could not grant them visas because the official religion of the country was Roman Catholicism to the exclusion of all other faiths.

Although the three men were very discouraged as they left the consulate’s office, they continued to pray about the matter, and the Holy Spirit clearly showed them that they were to go. By faith, they bought their steamship tickets to Guayaquil, Ecuador, and returned to the consulate. When they arrived, the Secretary informed them that there had been a revolution and a new constitution granting religious liberty had been approved.

With visas in hand they arrived in Ecuador in 1896 under the auspices of the Gospel Missionary Union. Those three men rejoiced that God had opened the door for them to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the Ecuadorian people. The following year, 1897, the first Alliance missionaries, William Fritz and Edward Tarbox, arrived.

Planting and Harvesting

The first evangelical missionaries and Ecuadorian Christians faced tremendous opposition. Although the constitution had changed, the attitudes of the people had not. We praise God for the perseverance of early missionaries such as William Reed (53 years in Ecuador) and Homer Crisman (71 years as an Alliance missionary in Ecuador and Colombia), who faithfully planted and watered the seed. Those of us who have been privileged to see the development of the work and have participated in the harvest identify with the words of Jesus in John 4:37–38: “Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

People in the coastal region, where the missionaries began their ministry, were much more responsive than those living in the mountain region. The “Templo Alianza” (Alliance Temple) of Guayaquil was dedicated in 1928. William and Mary Reed and a small group of Ecuadorian Christians faithfully witnessed in the city’s parks, schools, jails and military bases as well as from house to house despite persecution and ridicule from the people of Guayaquil.

In 1922 the first evangelical church in Quito was dedicated through the efforts of Homer Crisman and a small band of Ecuadorian Christians. This was the only Alliance church in Quito until the mid 1970s. Today, there are more than 30 Alliance churches. When we [Mike and Carol] arrived to begin our ministry among the Quichua of the Otavalo valley, along with our mentor, the late Evelyn Rychner, there were three Indian churches in that area. Today, there are 25, and the number continues to grow. All have national pastors.

In 1945 the C&MA decided to form an Ecuadorian national church. When Rev. David Clark, field director for the C&MA in Ecuador, convened a meeting of the Alliance in Ecuador, 14 churches were represented. There are now more than 300 C&MA churches in Ecuador, a country the size of Colorado. We praise God for the vision of mission leaders like D. S. Clark and others who realized that if the work were to advance, Ecuadorians would have to assume the leadership of their church.

The process of “nationalization” was not without difficulties, but today we see the wisdom of that decision. During the ensuing years there have been some tense moments in the national church/mission relationship, but we praise God that we have worked through them.

Smooth Transition

During that celebration service last summer, I referred to the words of J. Hudson Taylor, pioneer missionary to China, who once said that the mission is like a scaffold. The scaffolding is necessary while the structure is being built but should be removed when the building can stand without it.

Following that celebration, Isabel Muthre, wife of the national church president, added that they have their own scaffolding and are sending missionaries to the dark places of our world. The Ecuadorian church supports a couple in Spain and another in Bolivia. Two young women will soon be going to Papua New Guinea and North Africa. Emilio and Ana Ladines were to return to a central Asian country in June 2010. Sadly, they were killed in a traffic accident in Ecuador in February. It is our prayer that through this tragedy, God will raise up many more Ecuadorian young people to take the gospel to the dark places of our world.

We believe there are several essential ingredients to assure a smooth transition from a country like Ecuador, which has such a long history of missionary presence. One element is a keen sensitivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must be as sensitive to His leading as were the apostles when they began their outreach to the ends of the earth. Transition cannot be based on a knee-jerk reaction but upon careful, Spirit-led planning. Since the late Rev. David Volstad began to talk to us about transition some 20 years ago, we realized that this was the biblical pattern. At first that idea was not well received by some of our missionary staff and by some national pastors.

Another factor is the inclusion of national church leaders in the planning. Through the years, we were able to discuss the idea of transition with all involved, and fears of the unknown were gradually allayed. The process requires much prayer, sufficient time and good communication. As a result of the above mentioned factors, we believe we were able to accomplish an orderly, God-honoring transition. To God be the glory!

Kingdom Relay Racers

In a relay race the passing of the baton is a most crucial piece. Although as a mission we are no longer present in Ecuador, the work carries on through capable, godly leaders.

My friend, Carlos, knows a lot about running well. Years ago Carlos ran a race against the famous Ecuadorian long distance runner, Rolando Vera, and won! Now in his 50s, Carlos runs only to stay in shape, but he is also involved in a “relay race” of a different sort.

Carlos, along with about 25 other pastors (about half of them Alliance pastors), was part of mentoring group that I was privileged to work with from 2004–2006. We met periodically at a retreat center in Calacali, a small town outside of Quito, Ecuador. The “Calacali Group” experienced transformational times together in learning, developing transparent relationships and peer mentoring.

The friendship and mentoring with Carlos, and other Alliance leaders, continues up to today with online chats, e-mails and periodic on-site visits. It is a glorious thing to watch Carlos run well. But Carlos is not a solo runner. He runs these relay races with the likes of Medardo, Héctor, Javier and Armando.

Carlos and company will soon be leading a “Calacali Mentoring Group” for pastors across one of the Alliance districts in Ecuador. District pastor Luis, part of the original group, is setting this up. Carlos and the Ecuadorian church president, David Muthre, are exploring ways for Carlos and friends to walk with Alliance pastors across the country. If this partnership works out, the group members will facilitate a process of transformational mentoring across the 300-plus Alliance churches. The vision is to see these Ecuadorian pastors continue to run well and, by God’s grace, to finish well.

In the last couple of years, these capable “relay runners” have carried the baton to other places like Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. What a beautiful sight these Kingdom relay racers are! I can see the dust rising as their feet move forward in this Kingdom venture. Missionaries work for this—to see mission fields become sending bases!

—Frank Hankins, former international worker to Ecuador

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