Latinos reaching Latinos: God at work in rural Ecuador
By John Stuart | Ecuador in South America
Martha was always full of questions. From the first time she attended the Bible study, her desire to know more was evident. Even after she moved to a new town, she still wanted to gather to study the Bible. But Tomas and his fellow SIM missionaries never would have anticipated the influence Martha would have on others in her community.
Martha represents a rare case in rural church planting, of God changing her in a dramatic way from the first encounter. In reality, the ministry is more often a slow, methodical venture.
Vast distances and precarious roads, compounded by unpredictable weather make rural ministry a challenge. Syncretism, materialism and a works-based spiritual background pose other difficulties for ministers here. Despite people's religious upbringing, the areas they minister in have virtually zero presence of the true gospel. Wherever possible, Tomas partners with local churches in the rural areas.
This is not the ministry Tomas thought he would be doing in Ecuador. But God was preparing the Bolivia native and his wife Nancy even before they arrived.
"Originally we did not come to Ecuador to work in rural areas," Tomas said. "However before coming to Ecuador we were involved with rural ministry Bolivia, so this is not something new to us."
They are seeing why God wanted them to serve in rural areas.
"The Lord is working miraculously in the families we are visiting," Tomas said. "We are presenting the Gospel to many in a systematic way and I believe that God is pushing us to rural areas to be able to meet this gospel need in partnership with local churches."
In addition to his church planting work, Tomas takes part in SIM's Equipping Servants (ESI) program. Launched by SIM in the 1990s, ESI is a strategic, three-year program that trains and disciples South American pastors for ministry.
Tomas said this training is critical for pastors, as it meets a vital need of helping them continually grow in their knowledge and application of the Bible.
"ESI plays a role in showing the need to continue studying the Bible and growing in pastoral knowledge and leadership," Tomas said. "It encourages pastors to continue to depend on God in their ministry and family."
Often pastors feel they don't have peers to help them grow spiritually or to share their lives and struggles with, Tomas said.
"In this sense, ESI creates an environment where a group of pastors and leaders can come together, to encourage, counsel and even confess their sins and then be able to ask for God's help by praying together," Tomas said.
Tomas and Nancy are two of a growing number of Bolivians sent out by SIM Bolivia to minister in other countries. They represent the first of what is to come, as more South Americans are responding to God's call to serve in missions worldwide.
"Being a missionary with SIM has significant advantages," Tomas said. "In SIM you are part of a team who will care for you and pray for you.
"It is easier for us to get a visa to work here, especially since there is an agreement between the countries within Latin America," Tomas said. "Being Latino is sometimes an advantage in that we can in some instances relate to people a little easier compared to people from different cultures. We can talk more fluently to each other, and it does help in our relationships in some cases."
Not long after Martha came to faith she began inviting others to their Bible study. First it was her husband. Next she invited her boss, and then her boss' husband. God is at work through her in a powerful way and little by little the gospel is taking root in her community.
• more men and women who are passionate to preach and share the gospel in these rural areas with very little gospel presence.
• leaders in the rural churches to have a vision for reaching their own cultures and nation.
• more missionaries from all nations to come who are passionate to share the gospel in the rural areas of Ecuador.