I don’t speak Spanish and couldn’t tell what the conversation was about. But I knew that there was a bit of a debate happening. I whispered to one of my team members next to me who knew Spanish, “What’s happening?” I soon learned that the Ecuadorean pastors in the room were questioning the premise being taught by one of our youngest teachers, who currently had the floor. The topic was sin, and some of the pastors in the room were arguing that true Christian pastors generally don’t sin. We were somewhat stunned.
The discussion over the next couple of days centered on correcting that thinking and laying out the doctrine of progressive sanctification; how Christ takes sinners like us and, over a lifetime, makes us more and more like Him. There are of course plenty of Christians in the West who have unbiblical views on this topic. But the situation brought home why theological training for pastors is so needed around the world, particularly for those who have little access.
In July I had the great privilege of traveling to Ecuador where teams from several U.S. churches joined Dr. David Sills from Reaching & Teaching Ministries in their long-term efforts to strengthen the church in the Quichua regions of South America. We spent a tremendous week together studying the scriptures alongside two-dozen indigenous pastors from the provinces around El Tambo. I had the personal privilege of teaching on systematic theology, which was a real treat for me.
Dr. Sills shares how we experienced a significant number of trials during the week:
It was also an extremely difficult week with regard to the opposition from the evil one. A bag that went missing finally arrived in our possession, but without the laptop and various other possessions that the team member had packed. Five team members became ill during the week with altitude sickness, traveler’s stomach issues, or a combination of both. Three vehicles had problems with overheating that resulted in them breaking down at the most inopportune times. One missionary suffered a head-on collision and totaled out his vehicle. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but it was clear that the enemy was fighting hard against us.
Our primary purpose was in training indigenous Ecuadorean pastors and church leaders who have very little access to pastoral education. Members of our team also did VBS with the children in the community, as well as some health wellness checkups and some construction. During the week, I had the rare opportunity of teaching 4 sessions with pastors, focusing on aspects of Systematic Theology, with side-by-side translation into Spanish. Most of my focus in past years has been in working strategically to provide resources in the right languages, from my base in the U.S. It was so enjoyable to be able to also engage in active teaching of the scriptures, personally and in the field.
At one time, Ecuador had Latin America’s lowest percentage of evangelicals. In recent decades however, there has been a dramatic rise to number around 1.2 million. The percentage of believers in the country now stands at 8.5%, mostly focused in Quito and other growing cities, with a high concentration amongst the Quichua peoples. This growth has also made a dent in the influence of the Catholic Church.
Reaching & Teaching (R&T) has a long-term commitment to this region. In collaboration with community leaders, they are nearing completion on a pastoral training center and ministry base in Tambo, an area with more than 330 isolated communities and only 32 churches. This is a region where believers are often quite isolated from each other and many are persecuted for their faith.
These church leaders epitomize those whom we sense a burden to serve across Asia, Africa, and South America. A very small percentage will ever be able to attend seminary, and their access to solid theological books is extremely limited. Few of the men pastoring these churches have ever been discipled. They've rarely been taught the Bible, apart from R&T’s involvement.
This trip brought together so many elements of collaboration: U.S. church teams, a ministry engaged in overseas theological training, long-term missionaries laboring in the field, and indigenous church leaders there in the Tambo region. We were humbled as we saw the commitment of these Ecuadorean pastors, to pursuing this time of training in order to better serve their congregations.
Our mission with this team was a chance to put boots on the ground living out the core burden of TGC International Outreach: to provide Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church. On this trip, our team did Packing Hope, bringing 8 cases of Spanish-language resources for two ministries working in Ecuador.
Pray with us that God will bring fruit from our time there for the sake of His glory, by the grace of Christ being displayed through his church in Ecuador.
Bill Walsh is Director of International Outreach for The Gospel Coalition. He worked for Desiring God Ministries for 13 years. Starting in 2006, he and a small team built a global network of partners for the cause of Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church. This initiative joined TGC in 2012. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in Minneapolis and has two adult children, Beau and Regan. Contact Bill at Bill.Walsh@TheGospelCoalition.org.