I recently took a scouting trip to Ecuador with Al Wilson and Mike Lawrence. Our purpose was simple. I wanted to get acquainted with the gospel work that our church has been a part of there and together we hoped to get a sense of our next steps toward planting a brand new church in the community of Las Marias where our teams have been investing the last 5 years. Well I was reminded that the more I participate on God’s mission, the more I get to witness first hand His constant redemptive activity. Let that sink in for just a moment. I’m never surprised but I am always amazed and those few days in Ecuador did not disappoint. Here is a basic summary of our time:
1. Saturday, March 5 - We met with Ricardo and his wife, Carmen, in the morning. Ricardo is a local church leader who has been investing in the kids of Las Marias and who engaged with our group last summer. We hoped and sensed that he might be God’s man to pastor a new work there. Short story…Ricardo is solid. He may not be the long term man for Las Marias, but he is certainly the one to get it started. He came to Christ through his daughters and wife getting involved in church and learning about the Father. Of course that’s our prayer for the men of Las Marias! We learned a little more about his background and the church that he attends. We also talked about some possible next steps, some challenges, and some opportunities. For example, Ricardo expressed that he needed space in the community center for the Saturday kids programming and to gather the adults on Thursday nights. To that point the Center was not granting him space. More on that below.
2. Later that afternoon we attended the kids program at Las Marias. Our FBCG mission teams have obviously had a tremendous impact on those people. I witnessed so many joyful reunions. I got to see Al Wilson in his sweet spot with those boys and young men. Mike is bringing back many “Saludos a Señora Kelli!” from many of the women there.
3. Later that night, we took Ricardo and Carmen to dinner and continued to learn things that help us see the way forward in Las Marias and even way beyond that one community. For example, we learned that Ricardo’s church, Iglesias Buen Pastor (translated: Good Shepherd Church), has a multiplying mentality very similar to ours. They work to train and equip people and send them out to start new churches and have already started at least 2 churches in the area. They also run a Bible institute with 80 students (29 from their own congregation) where they also train and send people into the field to cultivate ministry and make disciples. Ricardo is a part of that. Obviously, there is great potential there for a strong and effective partnership between Iglesia Buen Pastor, the Bible Institute, and FBCG.
4. On Sunday, we were able to worship at Iglesia Buen Pastor with Ricardo and his family. That church is alive with all generations but a very energetic group of young people. That was a wonderful experience. Can’t wait to go back in July with our big mission team to worship the father together as 2 congregations but one church on God’s mission together. That will be a wonderful day!
5. Sunday evening - Here’s the really great part. One of items on our check list was to secure the community center for our trip this summer. Also based on our conversation on Saturday morning with Ricardo, we wanted to secure that space on a weekly basis for him to use. Well Ricardo found out that Las Marias was having a community association meeting where the business of the community would be conducted including the use of the community center. The city council member over Las Marias would preside over that meeting. Here name is Yolanda and she has been present in years past when our team was here. Ricardo decided to draw up an official proposal asking for Saturday afternoons, Thursday nights for adults, special occasions like Mother’s Day, and our VBS week in July. We were a bit nervous because this was not the normal channels Mike had taken in the past to secure the space. It was possible that the powers could just say no and we would be in trouble. There were around 60 people there, most of whom had been ministered to by our church family. We witnessed the promise of God in Jeremiah 29:7. As soon as the proposal was read out loud, they asked the 3 of us and Ricardo to stand up front and all the people in the community began energetically advocating on our behalf. There was conversation about charging us and Yolanda said absolutely not because of the good that has been done in Las Marias. Everything was approved with great excitement and Ricardo got to speak to the whole crowd to invite all the kids and the adults to the weekly programs and to VBS this July. It was truly a wonderful moment that we could not have planned better if we had tried.
6. After a great time of prayer and rejoicing late Sunday evening, Mike and Al caught a very early flight back on Monday morning and I got to stay for a few more days. I was able to meet with Pastor Manolo from Iglesia Buen Pastor. Like us, he was excited and hopeful about the idea of partnering together. We agreed that together we could do way more in the region…that we need each other. We decided that our next step is to partner first in Las Marias and then evaluate. He told me about other places where they are already working where we might join them in the future. I also got to attend one evening of classes at the Bible Institute. I was so encouraged to see so many young and energetic people that were there to be equipped with God’s word for the purpose of making disciples. There is a strong generation of leaders being formed there.
God's vision for our church is real. From my seat, I see this same story unfolding in different places near and far as each of us understand our missionary identity. We are missionaries not because of where we go but because of where we are. I challenge you to embrace your missionary identity and commit to make a disciple or two. Then watch the Father work!