by Susan & Jonathan Dawson
Variety is a good word to describe the small country of Ecuador. It is a land of volcanoes, tropical rainforests, cloud forests, majestic mountains, high moors, sweeping Pacific Ocean beaches, the Galápagos Islands and bananas. Lots of bananas of all sizes, colours and varieties: stuffed, fried, frozen, boiled, they appear with almost every meal in some shape or form. The people too are varied, in their dress, their languages, their customs, their food and their religion.
Although the main religion in Ecuador is Christianity, the largest church by far is the Roman Catholic church. Evangelical Protestantism was estimated at around 10.6% in the 2012 census, although the number of people who have a living relationship with Jesus has shrunk to about 0.5% of the population in the last ten years.1 As globalisation permeates every area of life, so does a more humanistic view that seeks immediate satisfaction. One key impact of this in society is the disintegration of the nuclear family but it also brings challenges for the church in Ecuador.
The Ecuadorian Evangelical Church
Milton Bustos, a prominent church leader who has travelled around the country over the last eight years visiting different churches and speaking at local, national and international conferences, says the Word is being marginalised as people look for the latest trend and what makes them feel good in church, ‘They want the party more than the Word.’ He suggests that evangelical churches in Ecuador need to recoup the centrality of the Word and help people to read, believe and practise the Bible. This is the only way in which the church here can regain the losses. Milton also suggests that just as Luther sought to reform the church of his time, the evangelical church in Ecuador needs evangelising again as it is being swept along by new ideologies and ‘progressive’ ideas. This is a particular need in the cities, which is where the evangelical church is most affected. Evangelical churches among the ethnic groups, mostly found in smaller towns and villages, seem to have a greater respect for God’s Word and are less influenced by these new ideologies. One way to address this issue would be to reverse the strategy and, rather than send people from the cities to the villages, bring people from the villages to evangelise and disciple those in the cities. A positive outcome of the pandemic is that people are searching and looking for answers. The church needs to mobilise, use all available resources and prioritise church planting so that people have a local church that they can easily access without the need to travel.
Facing the Challenges
There are two main ways in which we are contributing to addressing the needs and vision in Ecuador. The first is in our local church. Shortly after arriving in Ecuador in October 2021, Jonathan was asked to take on a leadership role in our local church. One of his main responsibilities is preaching, which he probably does more of than when he was a full-time church leader. He has been modelling a systematic, expository preaching style, which seeks to show people both the over-arching unity of Scripture, and give them in-depth analysis and application of Bible books. He also leads midweek Bible studies and, with Susan, leads an adult Sunday school class. The aim is to increase people’s confidence in and knowledge of the Word of God. We are currently doing a Bible overview with one group.
Another way, and the key reason for our move to Ecuador, is the work of Abel (Alianza Bíblica Evangélica Latinoamericana). Abel is an interdenominational organisation whose vision is taken from the verse: ‘And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others’ (2 Tim. 2:2).
The aim is to increase people’s confidence in and knowledge of the Word of God.
The aim is to fulfil the Great Commission through training men and women who are faithful to God’s Word so that they can then disciple others. The main way in which they seek to do this is through the Bible Institutes.
The Bible Institutes
Jonathan was asked to take on the role of Academic Director of the Bible Institutes. Groups scattered across the country sign up for a three-year course in Biblical Studies with a special emphasis on church planting. This job involves organising teachers and classes, writing or rewriting class manuals, teaching classes and generally trying to build up the work, which was hard-hit by the pandemic. Currently, there are about half-a-dozen centres with an established group of students, plus others who join online, and a number of churches where we are giving workshops, potentially as a precursor to establishing a fully developed institute there.
The job inevitably involves a fair amount of travelling and administration, as well as meeting church leaders and encouraging people to think about training their church members biblically. Abel aims to pitch the courses at a level that is accessible for most Christians with the option for the more academically minded to go on and do a fourth year of study and obtain a degree. We have reached an agreement with a Christian university in Central America for accreditation of our programme, whereby students complete their degree with that university. Alternatively, they can stay with us and finish an unaccredited but much cheaper course. Abel is also just about to take on responsibility for the degree course at a seminary, which will offer a third way to get a degree.
This latter project is connected to the seminary, which we are hoping to launch in 2023. As we take on the responsibility of training the next generation of church leaders, we will continue to offer our course to students from any denomination, or none, under the Abel banner.
The aim of the Bible Institutes is to provide a well-rounded theological and biblical foundation for students to be better equipped to serve in their local churches and mission enterprises. A requirement for all students is that they are involved in ministry of some form. In the last few months, we have launched three new groups, which is really encouraging.
In addition to securing accreditation for the courses with the Ministry of Education in Ecuador, the vision for the next five years is to see new teachers emerging from among the current students so that there are local teachers in each centre. Santiago Bustos, the Director of Abel, also wants to see the ministerial side of the institutes developed further so that the academic side feeds directly into the mission needs of the field in Ecuador. Finally, Abel would like to see institutes established among some of the other people groups in Ecuador including the Shuar-Achuar, the Huaorani (Auca) and the Cofani people groups.
We give thanks for the growth of the Bible Institutes and pray for more men and women to be trained and grounded in God’s Word. Please join us in praying for this beautiful country and its people.
- for Ecuador, its government, social issues and increasing secularisation
- for openings to establish Bible institutes among some of the other people groups in Ecuador
- for the students as they study the Bible and prepare for ministry.