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Experiencing the culture firsthand
February 20, 2006
By Garrett E. Wishall
David Sills carries two tools of the trade on a recent mission trip to Ecuador. (Below) Two Ecuadorian children offer a snapshot of the faces of the country. Photo by Timmy Brister
Pig's hooves served as percussion instruments, accompanying the strumming of a guitar and people singing in three languages. Eight Southern Baptist Theological Seminary students preached, shared their testimonies and worshipped on into the night with the indigenous people of Quito, Ecuador. M.Div student Timmy Brister, who preached at the service, said the evening was a special night of worship.
"The singing really started spontaneously in the different languages of English, Spanish and Quichua," he said. "It was a sweet experience, especially knowing that regardless of the dialect we were singing truths back to God that we all held dear."
The students experienced the culture of Ecuador and the development and current state of missions work in the third-world country during a mission trip, Jan. 2-10. David Sills, associate professor of missions and cultural anthropology at Southern Seminary, took the students to the country where he served as a church planter for several years to give them a taste of Ecuadorian culture.
"The purpose of the trip was to let students with classroom exposure to missions and cultural issues see firsthand what these people's lives, culture and reality are like," he said. "The students got to go to the Ecuadorian communities, see how the natives live, see the desperation on their faces … It was really an eye-opening experience."
Each student had taken one or more of three different classes: Intro to missiology, cultural anthropology and intercultural communication. Jeff Love, an M.Div student in the Billy Graham School, took intro to missiology last fall and said the trip made the classroom material more real.
"We got to see several differ-ent kinds of missions work, from indigenous church plants to the Seminario Teol"gico Bautista del Ecuador [Ecuadorian Baptist Seminary]," he said. "We visited an indigenous tribe that was still into Shamanism. One of the tribal members said, 'I know Jesus is good, but I still want to worship my ancestors.' It was interesting to see that syncretism in person."
Getting the backdrop
Sills let the students absorb the native culture for the first few days, beginning with a tour of a worldwide Christian radio station established in 1931 in Quito, Ecuador's capital city.
"The station is a very well established Christian ministry and is the most recognized evangelical institution in the country," Sills said. "They also established a hospital to minister to the nationals."
The students visited several museums, including one on the Equator line featuring cultural artifacts and pictures from the more than 20 people groups of Ecuador. They also visited missionary Nate Saint's home in Shell Mera on the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of he and four other missionaries by the Waodani people.
John Elam, another M.Div student on the trip, was impressed with the radio station's work and the overall missionary engagement in the country. "I was surprised and encouraged by the wide-spread missionary input there in the last 50 years through HCJB worldwide radio [and other missionary efforts]," he said. "The story of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint seemed to serve as a backdrop for missionary work in Ecuador."
Love said the Shell Mera visit was one of the most memorable of the trip.
"One of the books we read for intro to missiology was 'Through Gates of Splendor,' which tells the story of Saint and those other missionaries," he said. "Being in Shell Mera and standing in Nate Saint's front yard, seeing the airstrip he landed on and seeing the hospital he helped start was powerful."
Getting their hands dirty
One day, Sills said he took the students to a poverty-stricken, indigenous community at the edge of Quito where they found an elderly couple hoeing their back yard.
"We took their hoes away from them and hoed up the ground and cleared a piece of land for them," he said. "For some of these guys it was the first time they had ever done that type of work, and the people were so appreciative."
Moving down the road, the students did the same thing at another home and Sills said they were able to ask the indigenous people questions. Brister said it was a good opportunity to get their hands dirty as well as experience the culture.
"Hoeing the ground was a fruitful experience for us because we got to see the Gospel planted in people's hearts," he said. "We were also able to learn more about how the native people live and communicate with each other. On this trip we had a lot of time to ask questions and let things matriculate in our minds and that was unique for a mission trip."
Another ministry opportunity for the students — one student in particular — came the Sunday of the trip. Sills had pastored Iglesia Bautista Universitaria in the past, while serving as president of the Baptist seminary in Ecuador. The church's forty-third anniversary fell that Sunday and Luis Anda, an M.Div student on the trip, preached at the morning worship service.
Anda's father grew up in Quito, and Anda had been to Ecuador as a child and then again at age 18 as a non-believer. In 1991, Anda became a Christian. Anda said being able to share the Gospel in a city where he once spent time as a non-believer was an awesome experience.
"It was awesome to see God's provision [for the sermon] and to be able to share my testimony and the Gospel," he said. "I used the story in Mark 5 about the demoniac, to share how my life was chained to sin and how Christ coming into my life freed me from the bondage of sin."
Anda said seeing a church without a pastor in the town of Puio broke his heart at the need for missionaries in Ecuador.
"In Ecuador, there is Catholicism, Mormonism, animism and paganism," he said. "There is a need for the truth and for discipling people in the truth and all they are getting is lies from Catholicism and Mormonism. We have a responsibility to go to all nations, tribes and peoples and we need to return to places we have been before and take the Gospel there again."