AMBATO, Ecuador (BP)–While bumping along the rough mountain roads leading to one of 1,500 Quichua villages in central Ecuador, missionary David Butts disciples 16-year-old Victor, a new believer. Turning travel time into training is one way Butts has discipled approximately 200 Quichua believers like Victor over the past four years.
David brings at least one or two young Ecuadorians with him whenever he drives outside the city of Ambato. Spending 30 to 40 hours per week in the car allows him time to share Christ and develop relationships with many Quichua believers. Personal involvement in their lives gives him insight into the Quichuas’ backgrounds and potential. This is one of David’s strongest ministry points, said wife Debbie.
“He knows all their names, all their stories,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
The couple -– already proficient in Spanish after spending nine years in Chile -– began learning the Quichua language after their arrival in Ecuador in January 2000. They know speaking the language is key to understanding the hearts of the 1.9 million Quichua who make their home along the spine of the Andes Mountains just south of Quito, but they also know that to build relationships, they need more than words.
“Language is not really a bridge to friendship,” Butts said. “Friendship is built by spending time together and caring for people.”
Building friendships with the Quichua -– Ecuador’s largest indigenous people group -– isn’t easy. The hardy farmers of potatoes, corn and livestock such as pigs, sheep and guinea pigs live in small, rural communities and have strong familial ties.
“The Quichuas are shy [yet] curious,” Butts said. “They want to know about the outside world,” he noted, yet they are wary of it because other ethnic groups in South America look down on the Quichua. “They have been culturally abused and are timid. They’ve been put in a box and are limited by others; therefore, they don’t feel like they have many choices in life,” Butts said.
Because of this, many of these poncho-wearing indigenous people see their heritage as a stigma and often trade their familiar felt hats and bright layers for a trendy Western style to avoid discrimination. This cultural mix also is seen in their religious belief, a blending of Catholicism and animism.
In the Quichua culture, the Gospel flows freely through friendships, but Quichua people don’t have many friendships, Butts said. “We go out and do a broad sowing of the Gospel. In a week if we make three or four good relationships, it means new areas open up to the Gospel.
International World Changers “is the opening,” Butts said of the International Mission Board program that connects high school and college students with missions opportunities such as those among the Quichua.
Gaining trust in these tight-knit Quichua villages takes years, but over the past four years the missionaries have discipled hundreds of Quichuas who provide friendship networks to expand their ministry.
Introductions of the Gospel message have produced great results among Quichuas, Butts said, because it offers them freedom from how they have viewed themselves or let others define them. Their hardworking mentality translates to their Christian walks, and any discrimination or persecution they face only cements their commitment, not their discouragement, he said.
“When they understand [that God loves and values them], the commitment naturally follows,” Butts said. “They get so excited about the possibilities of sharing their faith in other villages.”
By Quichuas reaching Quichuas, approximately 24 mission groups and house churches have blossomed into more than 260 in three years. Some groups have multiplied to the fourth or fifth generation.
“Seeing these Quichua youth and a thousand more like them,” Butts said, “all with a desire in their hearts to share Christ with their friends and family makes me know God is at work here.”
Lydia DeGozo is a writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.