By Joe Whitten
Special to The Alabama Baptist
After my wife died, I went on two cruises. On a 2012 trip, I visited the Mayan ruins at Tulum, Mexico. The guide directed our attention to the temple and to the altar stone where his ancestors sacrificed humans to appease the gods they worshipped.
That pagan altar caused me to think of missions.
In His time
Back home I talked with our associational mission strategist, but our county had no trips planned. I put missions aside.
However, God has His plan and His time. In 2013, I joined First Baptist Church, Springville. Some members had just returned from an Ecuador trip, and Pastor Chip Thornton told me about their work with the people of the Andes. He mentioned that the trip had given Associate Pastor Andy Waits a passion for missions.
At a church lunch I sat by Waits and asked him about Ecuador. His eyes lit up as he told how Christ had been shared and that our church planned to partner with a home-church group in Gonzol, Ecuador. When he stopped to get a breath, I said, “I’m 75 years old; am I too old to go?” He said, “Go! It will change your life!”
So in June 2014 I went.
The flight went well until Miami. We had lined up to board the plane to Quito when crashing thunder and lightning halted boarding. We waited in line two hours. When we boarded I hurt all over.
We landed about midnight. Southern Baptist missionary Al Rodriguez met us and took us to a hostel. Miserable hours followed. Smoke detectors went off. Dogs barked. Roosters crowed. I lay thinking, “Joe, you should have acted your age and stayed home.”
But daylight brightens the heart, and by the time we were on the van for the eight-hour trip to the hotel in Chunchi, I was cheerful.
Along the way, as we marveled at the splendor of the Andes, we reviewed our plans: morning Bible school for children, afternoon work witnessing to adults and evening worship service.
Our first day in Gonzol the Christian elementary school principal allowed us to conduct Bible school in the courtyard. Teachers brought classes outside and they too heard the gospel.
Afternoon door-to-door witnessing fell through so we decided to do more Bible school after school. We checked supplies, saw it would work and prayed God’s blessing.
We expected maybe 35 children, but they kept coming until we had almost 150 who heard the gospel.
Evening worship exceeded my expectations. Plastic chairs lined the walls of the small room. Church members greeted us with a smile and handshake. They passed out song sheets, a teenage boy adjusted the keyboard and the service began.
Rodriguez preached. Afterward he asked the Ecuadorian believers to tell how they came to salvation in Jesus Christ. Each gave testimony as Rodriguez translated. When they finished, we shared how we came to Christ.
Two cultures united
A holy reverence filled the room. Two languages and two cultures, yet brothers and sisters united in worship by God’s Holy Spirit. I had never known such a sweet presence of God in worship before. I remember that evening as a foretaste of heaven.
The last day we climbed an ancient trail to a spot overlooking Gonzol. We prayed for the town and for the believers to share Christ with the villagers.
I could see the home where the church met, the school and the blue dome of the Roman Catholic Church. I scanned the sun-washed village remembering that Rodriguez’s wife said every town and village had a patron saint, and that Gonzol’s is St. Jude, the saint of hopeless cases. I looked at the believers with us and thought, “Gonzol a hopeless case? Never! God will reap a harvest of souls for Himself here.”
So far 12 teams from First, Springville, have ministered in Gonzol and built fruitful relationships. In 2017 we were allowed into every classroom in the school, something we had long prayed for.
Throughout the years, we have gathered crops, taught Bible study, counseled believers, worked with children and conducted a funeral. Our hearts have bonded with the Gonzol church members.
A missions trip changed my life. It will change yours.
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