GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (BP)--Seven years of moisture and exposure through the cheap, wooden frame have soiled the thin paper, but the faded certificate retains a prominent spot on the cement wall. Carlos Solis proudly points out the inscription: he is an official church planter.
Solis and about a dozen other Ecuadorians equally proud of their certificates weren’t exactly the people missionary Guy Muse had envisioned when he set out to train church planters in July 2000. One woman was blind. Three others were very old. Even Carlos and his wife, Maria, were former drunks who lived in “The Frontier” – a zone of Guayaquil where gangs meet and clash, and doors are locked by 5 p.m.
Yet within six weeks, the unlikely workers had started four churches. A year later they and other local believers had formed 70 more. Now, more than 100 churches are meeting in the streets and barrios (neighborhoods) of poverty-stricken Guayaquil.
Guy and his wife, Linda, both native Texans, have served among the 3.3 million Mestizos – mixed Spanish and Indian people – of the Guayaquil area for 20 years.
People of this city, which serves as a port to the Galapagos Islands, hold to a culture of nominal Roman Catholicism, with fewer than 5 percent of the population evangelicals.
“People on the coast of Ecuador are very open,” Guy says. “They know that they’re sinners. They know that they need God. Those are things that help us because they prepare the way for presenting Christ. We’re getting to harvest what many of our fellow missionaries that came before us had planted and watered.”
Guy was one of the first Baptists to plant seeds in Ecuadorian soil. In 1963, he arrived in the capital city of Quito as a missionary kid. He remembers handing out tracts with his dad on street corners, watching people rip the paper in pieces and throw them in his face.
Openness to the Gospel – and the strategies used to bring it to the Ecuadorian people – have changed in the past 30 years. In 1997, with the average Baptist church baptizing seven people a year, the work took on a new direction. Missionaries began focusing on building house churches rather than starting churches with buildings.
In March 2000 the Muses and the Guayaquil team began praying for the Lord to send helpers. Five months later, the Solis’ church became the first answer to those prayers.
At a missions meeting, Linda announced a church starting goal that people weren’t confident could happen.
“The next year at the missions meeting,” Linda says, “we got to get up and say, ‘We started 33 churches by December.’”
Casting a vision for reaching the country’s largest city is one of the first things Guy does every seven weeks as he begins another training group. Through radio announcements and word-of-mouth, between 20 and 30 Ecuadorian believers pour into the training center each week to learn how to start la iglesia en tu casa – the church in your house. When these servant-leaders lead people to Christ, they are expected to follow up within 48 hours and immediately begin discipling. Within four weeks, each trainee is to start a new Bible study that will become a functioning house church. Guy’s role is to train these disciples in church planting skills as the Ecuadorians to reach their own people.
Marlene Lorenti, a single mom and hairdresser turned Bible teacher, is one of the results of Guy’s training. Testimonies of her faithfulness in leading her neighbors and friends to Christ come from those who meet at her beauty shop for church. A new church started from this group meets 45 minutes away in another area.
“Marlene is an on-fire evangelist,” Guy says. “She has done everything that we’ve talked about. I feel like that’s my job, to empower people.”
Through servant-leaders like Marlene, the number of house churches in Guayaquil continues to expand, some even replicating to the second and third generations. As the Muses and their team continue catalyzing church plants, they also are looking for stateside partners to carry the Gospel to unreached pockets of their province. By teaming up with Ecuadorian churches, Southern Baptists have an opportunity to strategically take the Good News to people in coastal Ecuador.
“This is the time when we need to be putting everything into the effort,” Guy says. “We have an open window of opportunity like never before. This is not the time to be holding back. We need to put everything into finishing the task. It’s finishable.”
To volunteer, check out the “Go” section of samregion.org. The Muses are among the more than 5,500 Southern Baptist international missionaries supported by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The close-out date for 2008 offering receipts is May 31, 2009. To learn more about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.
-Dea Davidson covered this story as an overseas correspondent with the International Mission Board.