This past week I was joined by Reaching & Teaching staff member, Dean Bertsch, and our newest missionary arrival, Mat Kountz, to launch our first week of training on the edge of the Ecuadorian jungle. It was my first time back to Macas in about twenty years, and I was amazed to see its growth. We taught out of town in an area called Shimpis. About 35 pastors and leaders gathered for the training, thrilled to know that they would get a thorough theological and pastoral education over the next three years.
Some of the questions that brothers asked were insightful, while others revealed a heartbreaking vacuum of biblical awareness. We later learned that one of the attenders identified as a member of the Catholic cathedral in the extremely Catholic town and another was a leader of the Universalist church. They joined the others in thanking us for the training and expressing that this is the answer to years of prayers. They all were asking for more training sites further out in the jungles and offering to help.
We were to have our training a little further out in the jungle but some recent disturbances kept the local missionary from setting up our training out there. One was some unhappiness with the oil companies who are exploiting “Shuar” jungle these days. The other was that Muslims had moved in and made some remarkable headway among them. We knew that the Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness cults were here, but were surprised to hear that Muslims are moving into South American jungle people groups. Inexplicably, but thankfully, the Muslim strength has largely moved on, but confusion remains. Therefore, the leaders out there are extremely wary of any other groups moving in.
The majority of our students are Shuar indigenous people, with a few lowland Quichuas as well. Those of you who have read Through Gates of Splendor will recognize these Quichuas as the first group with whom the Elliots, Flemings, and McCullys worked, and the Shuars as those formerly known as Jivaro, to whom the Youderians and Frank Drown ministered in Ecuador’s Oriente jungles. Some of them know the Lord, others think they do, but very few know His Word, and virtually none know how to teach it to others faithfully.
I spoke with one leader who shared that the majority of the mission stations established through the years out in the jungle areas have been abandoned as missionaries retired or relocated. He estimated that over 90% are completely closed down now and the indigenous people are returning to traditional ways. The missionaries did great work, won many souls, and planted churches, but no one was trained to be disciplers, teachers, and trainers. It is as if they left a tractor to help with farming that has now run out of gas or broken down, and no one is trained to continue its operation, so they are returning to the old farming methods.
Join us in our efforts to provide sound biblical and theological training to these churches in culturally appropriate ways. Many other churches need to be planted and we want to plant them with prepared leaders (2 Timothy 2:2).