After growing up in the United States and now living and serving as a missionary in Cuenca, Ecuador, for the past two years, I have experienced firsthand the major cultural differences between the two cultures. These differences are evident in everyday life, including work, leisure, family, and religious activities.

I’d like to share with you over the next few weeks more about a notable distinction developing in Ecuadorian culture: the younger generation of Ecuadorians has adopted in recent years a much more Western-influenced worldview than that of previous generations.

Working with Reaching & Teaching, I teach classes in the city and in small towns. Regardless of where the classes take place, I have consistently observed the younger generation display certain Westernized traits: a desire to speak English, the style of clothing they wear, their view of marriage and family, and increased secularization. And I’ve seen how these changes affect their religious worldviews, as well.

I’ve wondered… What are the major religious worldview differences between the older and younger generations? When did this change in religious worldview begin to occur? What led to this?

To find these answers, I first looked into the history of Cuenca, and I’d like to share that fascinating history with you! Next week, we’ll look more into what’s happening in Ecuador today.

A Brief History of Cuenca

The history of the Andean people is truly remarkable. The Inca Empire began in the Andes Mountains in what is now southern Peru in the 12th century A.D. The Inca people began conquering their region in the early 15th century. It was around this time that Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, “usurped the throne from his brother Inca Urcon. Under Yunpanqui (1438-71), the Inca conquered territory south to the Titicaca Basin and north to present-day Quito, Ecuador, making subject peoples of the powerful Chanca, the Quechua, and the Chimú.”1

During this century of conquest, the Inca had such a dominating system of economics, culture, and religion that their influence still persists in Cuenca and throughout the Andes to this day.

Motivated by an insatiable hunger for adventure, gold, and fame, the Spanish Conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, arrived in South America in 1532. During this time, a civil war for control of the Inca Empire was being fought after their leader died. One of the candidates for the throne, Atahualpa, marched his armies south from modern-day Quito to Cuzco, destroying any enemies in his path.

When the Spaniards landed on the northern coast of Peru, Pizarro arranged for a meeting with Atahualpa. They kidnapped Atahualpa, held him hostage, and asked for a massive ransom of gold. After receiving the gold, the Conquistadors killed Atahualpa anyway and spent the following decades subjugating the entire Inca Empire.

With the Spanish conquest came the influence of Roman Catholicism. Today, over 85% of the population in Cuenca claims Roman Catholicism as its religion2. The effects of Catholicism upon the culture in Cuenca are hard to overestimate. At the same time, the Cuencanos never totally abandoned the indigenous traditions and religious animism of their Cañari and Inca ancestors. This has led to a dangerous syncretism of religion in the area.

Cuenca—named after Cuenca, Spain—was officially founded on the 12th of April in 1557 by the conquistador Gil Ramirez Davalos on the ruins of the residence of Huayna Capac.3 The surrounding villages of major towns in modern Ecuador and Peru are still home to the indigenous Quechua/Quichua-speaking descendants of the Inca.  

However, over the centuries following the Spanish conquest of Latin America, the Spaniards began to take the indigenous women of Ecuador as wives and mistresses. Many of these Spaniards lived in the major cities. To this day, the largest cities in Ecuador are the main population centers of mestizos—the descendants of a mix of Spanish and indigenous bloodlines.

Next week, we’ll look at how the religious and cultural climate among these mestizo Cuencanos is rapidly shifting, what it looks like today, and the implications of those changes on Christian missions in Ecuador.


1Encyclopedia Britannica, “Inca People,” Last modified July 8, 2016. Accessed July 12, 2018.

2Jason Mandryk, Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation, 7th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 310.

3Encyclopedia Britannica, “Cuenca, Ecuador” Published October 31, 2012. Accessed July 17, 2018.

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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