Small town, big changes
By Christian Waidelich | Ecuador in South America
“How can I possibly find the way to heaven?” This was the crucial question that Aníbal and Josefina, an elderly couple, had struggled with their whole lives--marking them with spiritual restlessness.
The couple's home village is deeply committed to the Roman Catholic traditions, which are often mixed with syncretistic beliefs, or non-Christian ideas and practices. Villagers visit Mass several times a week to confess their sins to the priest and participate in rituals most Christians don't consider biblical--and many people simply hope these actions are enough to please God. Josefina, especially, went to the local church regularly, feeling closer to God there. “God, just show me the way to heaven!” she would often pray, betraying her worry that these visits and rituals weren't enough to earn her salvation. And she never got an answer to her prayer at the church.
But step by step, God was working out his plan for this couple. First, he answered Josefina's prayer through their son, who lives hundreds of kilometers away in the capital city. He gave his life to Jesus and told his parents all about it. Aníbal and Josefina then started to ask themselves, "What is this Jesus all about?"
This is where a lady named Alba comes in. Alba and her family are the only believers in her village of 2,000 people, and we started visiting them several months ago. We meet weekly for a Bible study, along with training time in discipleship and church planting. We pray with Alba's family for an awakening in their village. Together we long to see local villagers know Christ, and for believers to plant a church there.
Alba knows every soul in the village, including Aníbal and Josefina, and everybody is aware that she and her family are Christian believers. She felt that Aníbal and Josefina were searching for the truth, and when Alba visited their grocery store in the centre of the village, their conversations became more and more focused on Jesus Christ.
And then came the day when Alba visited Aníbal and Josefina and recognized that both had given their lives to Christ!
Just recently we all met together at Alba’s home. Aníbal and Josefina reflected great peace and joy about their present and future hope, and they had lots of questions. They now enjoy the freedom of a personal relationship with Christ instead of a religious system holding them captive. No more worshiping statues and icons, and no more trying to work their way up to God and always worrying if it’s enough. No more depending on human clergy for eternal forgiveness and answered prayers, which only God can provide. Now, this excited couple earnestly studies God’s Word. We have been teaching them about our calling to make disciples for Christ, and that now their lives have been transformed, let's pray that their little store will be a point of hope for many local friends.
But the couple's decision for Christ had immediate consequences. “They call us insane," says Josefina. "Some people tell us they hate us because we turned to Jesus."
Ecuador promises religious freedom, but especially in the rural areas of Loja Province, it doesn't always feel that way. Leaving behind the traditional Catholic church is considered betrayal. Questioning the church's authority is not seen as spiritual curiosity, but arrogance. As a result, many lonely believers in the rural parts of the region need encouragement and support. Once a person becomes a Christian believer, he or she will also face false religions, cults and sects fishing among evangelicals for fresh converts. It's not an easy place to put down roots for Christ, but God is doing it — and using people like shopkeepers and small-town neighbors to write the story.
• those departing from family and community expectations to follow Jesus.
• churches to support new believers in Loja.