RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Ten framed diplomas line the wooden slats of a home in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
The glass and gold-colored frames appear out of place in this tin-roof hut as sunlight spills through narrow cracks in the wall. But they represent the spiritual journey of Monica and Medardo -– their baptism, discipleship and commitment to a Christian marriage. Soon they will add another diploma to the wall -– one for starting a house church in their home.
The couple and their diplomas represent an aggressive discipleship effort called HARVEST (or COSECHA in Spanish) led by International Mission Board missionaries Guy and Linda Muse.
The Texas natives oversee a team of local believers in working with a network of 100 churches among Guayaquil’s 3.3 million mestizo people.
“We have trained people that have worked and gone out and are continuing … to win people to Christ,” says Guy Muse, who has lived and ministered among the mestizos for more than 20 years. “We call [it] our Guayas house church network.
“Some are traditional churches, others are house churches -– but it is people we work with and relate to.”
Muse admits he is a little “fanatical” about discipleship among Ecuador’s mestizos. “We started [HARVEST] in the year 2000 and it’s been trial and error,” he recounts. “We keep learning things and adapting and changing and modifying and updating -– and we’ve got it down to something we feel pretty comfortable with.”
According to the IMB’s 2007 Annual Statistical Report, 3,162 new believers in Ecuador are involved in discipleship and 43 new churches have started. Worldwide, more than 1.2 million church members, including nearly 570,000 new believers, are involved in various discipleship initiatives.
Through Southern Baptist churches’ year-round support of the Cooperative Program and their gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, missionaries like the Muses are at work encouraging more new believers to participate in discipleship and help start churches.
For Guy Muse, church planting boils down to quick follow-up, baptism and a nurturing discipleship effort. He explains it like this: If he or one of his teammates leads you to Christ today, within 48 hours someone begins leading you through the first lesson of discipleship.
“We sit down with you, we help you to make out your own list of family and friends who don’t know the Lord,” he says. “We teach you to pray for their salvation.”
During the first weeks of one-on-one discipleship, the team urges new believers to invite their family and friends to join them in the study. Within eight to 10 weeks a new group should form.
“This is how house churches get started in Guayaquil,” Muse says.
“Should church planting really be any more complicated than that?” he asks. “If we will do our part, Jesus promises to do His part and build His church.”
One of the biggest challenges Muse and his team encounter is convincing people to trade their routine church life for ministry outside their comfort zone. Many believers put an emphasis on going to church rather than making disciples, something Muse refers to as “churchianity.”
“Most of the traditional churches we relate to simply cannot get past [the challenge of living] their Christianity outside of the four walls of the church building,” Muse reflects.
“It is much easier and more convenient to just go to church. But that’s not what we understand the New Testament as saying at all. It says to go out and make disciples.”
Shawn Hendricks is a writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. For more stories and updates on the work in Guayaquil, visit samregion.org. For additional stories about missions in other parts of the world, go to imb.org or commissionstories.com.