When you join any new community, it is a challenge to form relationships.
With God, however, new relationships are often built in exciting and unexpected ways. This was true for me as my family and I began looking for connections in the community of El Cisne.
The significance of this town in the Loja province of Ecuador is profound. El Cisne is home to the Catholic Basilica, which is devoted to the Virgin of El Cisne. It is no overstatement to say that Mary, in the form of this four-foot-tall statue, is central to the religious life of nearly all people of Loja. Beyond the religious aspect, the Virgin is also the economic foundation for El Cisne in tourist dollars.
God began forming the basis of my friendship with Sergio a short time before we moved near the town. Before my wife, Ruth, and I began teaching English there, we had been taking new missionaries and visitors to El Cisne. We wanted them to see the depth of devotion to this statue. We would show them inside the elaborately decorated church, as well the massive gold altar where the Virgin stands in a case at the top.
The impact on the visitors often came, though, through the museum: It is devoted to the display of the many articles of gold, jewels, crowns, clothing and various other artifacts donated to the statue in appreciation for, or request of, her miracles. Of course, the museum comes with a tour guide. Sergio is very knowledgeable of the 400-plus years of history and the significance of the donated articles.
After I'd brought three groups in two months, Sergio certainly recognised me. So, he asked me what I was doing in Ecuador and what brought me to El Cisne. I told him I was helping teach English in the school.
He seemed very pleased with that, and even suggested a profitable venture of teaching English to adults in the town, thinking about tourism. I told him that I was unable to charge anything, but I would consider organising something as a volunteer if he would help me find interested people. And so the Lord began to open doors of opportunity that we’d been hoping and praying for.
I visited Sergio in his home and talked about the Bible. He admitted he had never read the Bible, so he didn’t really know what it said. Of course he was surprised to hear that it is by grace we are saved, and not by our own works do we earn God’s favour.
We continue to pray for Sergio, working on deepening the relationship, which slowly opens more opportunities for sharing the Bible and the gospel.
(Mark and Ruth, with their two boys, have worked in El Cisne since 2015, when they felt led to move outside the city of Loja and focus on church planting there.)