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Students gain firsthand view of Ecuadorian culture, mission

QUITO, Ecuador (BP)–The beat of percussion instruments fashioned from Pig’s hooves accompanied the strumming of a guitar and singing in three different languages.

Eight Southern Baptist Theological Seminary students preached, shared their testimonies and worshiped into the night in an indigenous church in Quito, Ecuador.

M.Div. student Timmy Brister, who preached earlier in the night, said the evening was a special night of worship.

“The singing really started spontaneously in the different languages of English, Spanish and Quichua,” he said. “It was a sweet experience, especially knowing that, regardless of the dialect, we were singing truths back to God that we all held dear.”

David Sills, associate professor of missions and cultural anthropology, took the students to the Latin American country where he served as a church planter for several years to give them a taste of Ecuador’s culture.

“The purpose of the trip was to let students with classroom exposure to missions and cultural issues see firsthand what these people’s lives, culture and reality are like,” Sills said.

Each student on the trip had taken one or more of three different classes: Introduction to Missiology, Cultural Anthropology and Intercultural Communication. Jeff Love, a master of divinity student in the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth, took the missiology intro last fall and said the trip made the classroom material more real.

“We got to see several different kinds of missions work, from indigenous church plants to the Seminario Teológico Bautista del Ecuador [Ecuadorian Baptist Seminary],” he said.

“We visited an indigenous tribe that was still into Shamanism. One of the tribal members said, ‘I know Jesus is good, but I still want to worship my ancestors.’ It was interesting to see that syncretism in person.”

A tour of HCJB, a worldwide Christian radio station established in 1931 in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, was the first stop in the early January venture.

“The station is a very well established Christian ministry and is the most recognized evangelical institution in the country,” Sills said. “They also established a hospital to minister to the nationals.”

The students visited several museums, including one on the Equator line featuring cultural artifacts and pictures from the 20-plus people groups of Ecuador. They also visited missionary Nate Saint’s home in Shell Mera on the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint and four other missionaries by the Waodani people.

John Elam, another master of divinity student, was impressed with the radio station’s work and the overall missionary engagement in the country.

“I was surprised and encouraged by the widespread missionary input there in the last 50 years through HCJB worldwide radio [and other missionary efforts],” he said. “The story of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint seemed to serve as a backdrop for missionary work in Ecuador.”

Love said the Shell Mera experience was one of the most memorable of the trip.

“One of the books we read for intro to missiology was ‘Through Gates of Splendor,’ which tells the story of Saint and those other missionaries,” Love said. “Being in Shell Mera and standing in Nate Saint’s front yard, seeing the air strip he landed on and seeing the hospital he helped start was powerful.”

One day, Sills said he took the students to a poverty-stricken, indigenous community near the edge of Quito where they found an elderly couple hoeing their back yard.

“[We] hoed up the ground and cleared a piece of land for them. For some of these guys it was the first time they had ever done that type of work,” Sills said, “and the people were so appreciative.”

Moving down the road, the students did the same thing at another home and Sills said they were able to ask questions of the indigenous people.

“Hoeing the ground was a fruitful experience for us,” Brister said, “because we got to see the Gospel planted in people’s hearts. We were also able to learn more about how [they] live and communicate with each other.”

Another ministry opportunity for the students -– one student in particular –- came on a Sunday morning. Sills had pastored Iglesia Bautista Universitaria in the past while serving as president of the Baptist seminary in Ecuador. The church’s 43rd anniversary fell during the trip and Luis Anda, a master of divinity student on the trip, preached at the morning worship service.

Anda’s father grew up in Quito, and Anda had been to Ecuador as a child and again at age 18 as a non-believer. In 1991, Anda became a Christian and he returned to Ecuador in May 2004 before going on the trip in January. Anda said being able to share the Gospel in a city where he once spent time as a non-believer was an awesome experience.

“It was awesome to see God’s provision [for the sermon] and to be able to stand up there and share my testimony and the Gospel,” he said. “I used the story in Mark 5 about the demoniac, to share how my life was chained to sin and how Christ coming into my life freed me from the bondage of sin. It was a humbling experience.”

Anda said seeing a church without a pastor in the town of Puio broke his heart at the need for missionaries in Ecuador.

“In Ecuador, there is Catholicism, Mormonism, animism and paganism,” he said. “There is a need for the truth and for discipling people in the truth. All they are getting is lies from Catholicism and Mormonism. We have a responsibility to go all nations, tribes, tongues and peoples and we need to go back to places where we have been before and take the Gospel there again.”
Garrett E. Wishall is a writer at Southern Seminary.

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  • Garrett E. Wishall