Last week, we began looking at the changes in Cuencan youth by examining the history of Ecuador. This week, we’ll dive into the changes observed among Cuencan Millennials and why these changes may be happening.

Prior to moving to Ecuador, I was aware of the growing number of nones among Millennials, young adults born between 1981 and 1996, in America. Nones are known to sociologists as those who reply, “None,” to the question, “What is your religious affiliation?”

Millennials have become known as the least religious generation in American history. 38% of Millennials identify themselves as having “no religious affiliation,” while only 17% of their parents’ generation identify as nones.1

After arriving in Ecuador and having researched the statistical trends in the United States, I became very curious to discover if the young adults in Ecuador—who are identified as Millennials or la Generación del Milenio in Spanish—were following the same path as their counterparts in North America.

As I mentioned last week, in the first part of our series, the younger generation of Ecuadorians has adopted in recent years a much more Western-influenced worldview than that of previous generations. One of areas of influence seems to be a lack of religious affiliation, especially among young mestizo Cuencanos.

Through participant observation and interviewing young adults here in Ecuador, the prevalence of atheism and agnosticism quickly became apparent, along with other evidences of Western influence. I’d like to share my findings with you over the next two weeks. This week, we’ll look at what I discovered through participant observation. Next week, we will go through what I learned in interviews and conclude this series on the recent changes in Cuenca.

Millennials in Ecuador are much more like the Millennials in the United States than the older generations of Ecuadorians were similar to their counterparts in the America. For example, the clothing of the younger generation is very similar to the fashion styles of Millennials in the States. Even in the rural indigenous communities, I observed the older generation wearing their traditional Quichua clothing, while their children’s clothing looked no different from a typical teenager or young adult in the United States. In the city, similar trends are observed, as well.

The similarities among the younger generation of Ecuadorians extend to their taste in movies, music, literature, and an deep desire to speak English. I notice that everywhere we go, the young people could speak at least a little English—even in the rural communities where Quichua is often the primary language and Spanish is the second language. And the young people enjoy all kinds of American media, as well.

Beyond these influences, I’ve also been consistently reminded of the current religious indifference of Ecuadorian youth. While speaking with college students at the University of Cuenca, I discovered on multiple occasions that many of the students with whom I conversed shared openly that they didn’t believe in God. Often I ran into an apathetic attitude towards even questioning the existence of God; they simply aren’t interested.

In one instance, I spoke to a young man who didn’t even seem interested in talking about his atheism. Rather, he didn’t believe in God because he had, “never thought about it.” This seems to be a common refrain among young Ecuadorians.

So, what does this all mean? The Western influence through fashion, movies, music, literature, and more has profoundly impacted young Ecuadorians both in these areas and in their general worldviews. While it may not be surprising to an American to hear of a lack of religious interest in young people, one must remember that Ecuadorian culture is religious at its core. Disbelief in God is a radical departure from traditional Cuencano culture.

Both the religious and cultural climate have shifted significantly in Ecuador and continue to change. As we evangelize, disciple, and teach in Ecuador, it’s important for us to look at these changes and consider how we can best reach the lost in light of them. This generation has different interests and views and attitudes towards the world than their parents do. While faithfully and passionately preaching the full gospel in our ministry, we can also remain sensitive to the different needs and challenges of each generation.

 

1All statistics are taken from the Pew Research Center, which specializes in observing and documenting religious trends in America. 

Jimmy Winfrey

Jimmy and his wife, Heather, currently serve in Cuenca, Ecuador. They have four children: Willow, Walker, Waverly, and Weston. Jimmy graduated from Boyce College and earned his Master of Divinity degree from Southern Seminary. He is currently in the Ph.D. Program at Southern studying Christian Missions.

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