In the shadow of the Virgin Mary's village, God builds new friendships
Building relationships in a religious community of Loja Province of Ecuador can be challenging, but God connects His workers with those He is seeking out!

By Mark Lans, Ecuador in South America

In any new community it's usually a challenge to form new relationships. God, however, often builds new relationships in exciting and unexpected ways. This was true for me as my wife, Ruth, and I began looking for connections in the community of El Cisne.

El Cisne holds a profound significance in the Loja province of Ecuador. El Cisne is home to the Catholic Basilica, which devotes itself to the Virgin of El Cisne. It is no overstatement to say that Mary, in the form of this four-foot-tall statue, is central to the religious life of nearly all the people of Loja. Beyond the religious aspect, the Virgin also makes up the economic foundation for El Cisne through tourist dollars.

A short time before Ruth and I moved near El Cisne to teach English, God began forming the basis of my friendship with Sergio. We had been taking new missionaries and visitors to El Cisne to see the depth of devotion to this statue. We showed them inside the elaborately decorated church and massive gold altar where the Virgin stands in a case at the top. The museum, though, often holds the greatest impact on visitors. Entirely devoted to the display of the Virgin Mary, the museum houses articles of gold, jewels, crowns, clothing and various other artifacts donated to the statue in appreciation for, or request of, her miracles. Of course, the museum comes with a tour guide. Sergio, one of the guides, is very knowledgeable about the museum's 400-plus years of history and the significance of the donated articles.

After Ruth and I brought several groups to visit the museum over a two-month period, Sergio certainly recognized me. So he asked me what I was doing in Ecuador and El Cisne, and I told him I was helping teach English at a local school. He seemed very pleased and even suggested a profitable venture of teaching English to adults in the town, thinking about tourism. I told him I couldn't charge money for lessons, but I would consider organizing something as a volunteer if he would help me find interested people. And so through Sergio, the Lord began to open doors of opportunity that Ruth and I had been hoping and praying for.

I visited Sergio in his home and talked about the Bible. He admitted he had never read the Bible, so he didn’t really know what it says. Of course he was surprised to hear that God saves us by grace, and not by our own works.

We continue to pray for Sergio as we deepen our friendship, which is slowly opening more opportunities for sharing the gospel with the people of El Cisne.

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Mark and Ruth Lans and their two boys have worked in El Cisne since 2015, when they felt led to move outside the city of Loja and focus on church planting in El Cisne. Please pray for the Lans family and other missionaries to build close relationships with the people of El Cisne, and for Ecuadorians to long for the one true God who hears and sees.

If you think God could use you to reach the people of El Cisne through your prayers, donations, or by serving alongside missionaries like the Lanses, contact SIM.