LAGARTO, Ecuador When you’re on a mission trip and the town’s mayor tells you to keep coming back, you know you’re doing something right.
But that’s what happened to a 13-member team in late July, when an Ecuadorian village president—the equivalent of a mayor—heaped compliments on team leader Tony Mathews, pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship. The trip was sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which is in the third year of a five-year partnership to reach the Afro-Ecuadorians people group.
“The president of Lagarto came to me and he said, ‘You are in Lagarto’s heart. Please come back. Don’t stop coming,’” Mathews told the TEXAN.
This was Mathews’ fourth mission trip to Ecuador and the most fruitful one yet. The team witnessed many decisions for Christ and deepened relationships that will allow the gospel to continue spreading in the future in an area where there are few Christians.
Team members held leadership development training sessions for men and women that included evangelism as well as training for life and day-to-day skills. Ecuadorian men were taught, among other things, how to be better husbands and fathers. Women were taught relationship and business skills, including how to use the Internet.
One day, after the sessions, the wife of one of the Ecuadorian men asked them, “What did you do to my husband? He’s a changed man.”
Team member Roxanne Brown of North Garland Baptist Fellowship said that despite the language barrier, the “women and children that I met were so warm and gracious” that “we had no problems communicating.”
“God has blessed us in the U.S. with so much,” Brown said, “and whether it’s our time, our money, our prayers, or even ourselves to go, we all can be part of the Great Commission in some way.”
Using SBTC funds, the team also helped begin construction on an external wall to a Lagarto school—a school which previously had only three walls. The ease-of-access to the inside of the building had invited thieves.
“It was an amazing, wonderful time to see how excited the people were,” Mathews said.
The peoples’ hunger for the gospel was evident and convicting, Mathews said. He visited one home where among the seven children, four of them—all sons—are blind. One of the sons, a man in his 20s, listens to the Bible on audio tape throughout each day.
“He loved the Lord so deeply,” Mathews said. “Those of us with 20/20 vision have access to reading the Bible and seeing it with our eyes but often don’t read it, but here he is and can’t see, but yet he listens to it around the clock.”
Roberto Cepeda, a member of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington who went on the trip, said it exceeded his expectations.
“I learned that God can use all our skill sets, whatever they may be, to impact the lives of others,” Cepeda said.
The multi-cultural makeup of the mission team—three Caucasians, two Hispanics and eight African-Americans—also stood out to Mathews.
“The African-American community is really under-represented [on mission trips], and we are seeing a movement of God in our African-American community and beyond,” Mathews said.
Lagarto has no evangelical churches, but the goal is for that to change in the near future, said SBTC mobilization director Barry Calhoun. In fact, the team found a man who is willing to donate land for the yet-to-be-built church.
“We’re really excited not only about the salvations but the potential salvations that could come out of this for many, many years to come,” said Calhoun.
“The idea of going somewhere once or twice does not equate to a lasting relationship,” Calhoun said. “What we see here is what it means to actually be in a partnership for a long period of time.”
Mathews said a long-term partnership makes a difference.
“They don’t see you as someone who is just coming there to help them spiritually, which certainly is our goal,” Mathews said, “but they also see that we really want to build relationships with them and help them with the other things that are perhaps not spiritual in nature.”
For more information on how your church can be involved, contact Barry Calhoun at 817-552-2500.