Peruvian missionaries to Ecuador bring transformation to a village

Shirley Fischer and Gina Grate Pottenger
Friday, November 11, 2016

When Alex was 12 years old, he walked away from his relationship with God and began drinking.

He hated his father, who was an alcoholic and mistreated his mother. Yet, even as a child Alex was beginning to follow in his father’s footsteps with alcohol.

When he was older, Alex studied to be a chef on the weekdays, followed by drinking away his weekends. He managed to put aside the alcohol when a friend invited him to play semi-professional soccer, and Alex was motivated to be sober by his ambition to be a skilled player.

ImageHe reached a spiritual turning point when he visited his family for his grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. While home, his mother invited him to church, telling him he was leading a bad life. Her assessment hurt him deeply.

That same night, his uncle was in a bad accident. Shaken by these events, Alex visited a church service and gave his life to God. He quickly made positive changes in his life, and found friends who were supportive of his new decisions. He began to study to be an electric mechanic and attended church regularly. He also asked his father’s forgiveness for his part in their poor relationship.

One day, while sitting in church waiting for others to arrive and begin the service, Alex told God, “I feel your Spirit every morning. What do you want of me?”

Memories flashed through his mind of three different accidents he’d walked away from. God then said, “I was with you.” Alex asked again, “What do you want of me?” God’s answer: “Serve me.”

Alex decided to attend a Christian school. Although his father had never supported anything he did, eventually his father gave his approval to Alex’s theological education. And the rest of his family was very pleased.

At the age of 18, Alex met Cynthia, who was secretary at the Christian school. They established a good friendship.

A pastor’s kid herself, Cynthia had always been opposed to the idea of being a pastor’s wife, because she dreamed of being a missionary from a young age. Her first encounter with missionaries were family friends who translated the Bible in Quechua, and she admired them greatly.

Even though her parents were strong Christians, they tried to discourage her interest in a future as a missionary because they knew it would be hard work with little financial compensation. They counseled her to get a degree, so she studied art. After earning her degree, they still opposed her ambition toward missions, so she taught school for two years, then became secretary at the school.

After she’d known Alex for some time, God changed her heart toward local church ministry. Their friendship became romantic, and in 2013 they were married.

They began their ministry in the local church, where Alex served as the youth pastor and preached. Because inexperience undermined his confidence, often he wanted to give up. The assurance of God’s call kept him going.

Alex began to sense God leading him to leave their native Peru and study at a seminary in Ecuador. Although they filed all the appropriate paperwork to be accepted and move to Ecuador, the church leadership did not support their desire to move. So they waited.

ImageThen, Mario Paredes, a district superintendent, contacted them saying he was looking for pastors to plant churches in Ecuador. While they prayed about this opportunity, a letter came in the mail from Cynthia’s cousin. Inside was money that her cousin said was so they could go to Ecuador.  They felt this confirmed God’s leading to go. Within days they boarded a bus for Ecuador.

Paredes described his district’s strategy, in which it partners with International Compassion Ministry (ICM), a non-governmental organization, to start compassionate works in disadvantaged areas in the district. Through these compassionate works, people accept Christ and thus churches form. Paredes wanted to send Alex and Cynthia to San Miguel, a small village in the mountains, to plant a church. He gave them the names of 200 local children who had been qualified to participate in the ICM project there.

As part of this project, a small staff serve the children meals on two days a week, and provide classes in which their spiritual life, emotional, social and cognitive development are supported.

On three Fridays a month, there are also classes for the parents which teach them how to care for their children, from well-being to discipline and raising children in a Christian home.  There is some Bible teaching, also. Sometimes as many as 140 parents show up for the classes, which are held on the patio of a nearby hotel.
 

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The parents also participate in discipleship classes on Sundays. The group has grown from 18 to 40 or 50 each week.

The first year was very difficult, but Cynthia’s brief experience with school teaching helped. Some parents opposed the program for a variety of reasons, such as religious objections or because it took their children away from housework.

ImageBy the second year, they had won the confidence of 90 percent of the parents and community members. Alex knows nearly all 400 children of San Miguel by name, and whenever he walks through the village to run errands, he prays for them.

The children of San Miguel face huge obstacles as they grow up. Four percent are physically abused. Alex and Cynthia believe that as many as 40 percent are emotionally abused. Some are undernourished at home. This past year, three of the children’s fathers died of health problems, so Alex and Cynthia brought in a professional psychologist to help them.

The parents have noticed the significant behavioral improvements in their children, saying, “My child has completely changed!” While many families are not Christian, the children are taught to pray at the ICM school, and they pray in front of their parents at night – a great witness.

Although Kevin, at the age of 11, is too old to qualify for the program, he often hung around the school, attracted by the presence of other children and the activities they were doing. However, he tended to pick fights, use bad language and generally cause problems. Rather than try to keep Kevin away, Alex began to spend time with the boy and include him in some of the games and activities. Gradually, Kevin’s behavior has improved and he has learned how to ask forgiveness when he misbehaves. He tells his parents, “The pastor says I need to do this, and shouldn’t do that.”

The children all have sponsors and write letters to them. When Kevin asked who his sponsor is, Alex laughed and said, “I’m your sponsor.” So Kevin excitedly tells everyone, “The pastor is my sponsor!”

When Jimmy first came to the program, he would bite his teacher. He suffered behavioral problems because his mother had mistreated him before his parents separated. Now he is being raised by his grandparents.

Once, at 11 p.m. Jimmy came to Alex and Cynthia’s house to play. They returned him to his grandmother and urged her to keep a better watch on the boy. Over time, his misbehavior has greatly diminished and he now has an attitude of wanting to do what is right.

ImageRecently a Work & Witness team from Peoria, Illinois, USA, came to help build the new church. The team put a roof on the second story structure, worked on the electricity and put in lightbulbs in all the classrooms.

Although Cynthia had opened her heart to local ministry rather than being a missionary, God combined both her callings when He led the couple to Ecuador.

“They LOVE the children and genuinely care about them and the parents,” said missionary Shirley Fischer, who along with her husband brought the Work & Witness team to San Miguel this summer. “The community loves them. We stayed at a hotel when we had the work group there and the hotel owners are allowing Cynthia and Alex to have the parent classes on their beautiful patio in their hotel. They are creative in the ways they minister and help to make the ministry run effectively. More than anything they love the Lord and are committed to their calling.”