Ministering in the shadow of the statue
by Mark and Ruth Lans
28 February 2017
It is a challenge to build relationships in any new community. With God, however, relationships often form in unexpected ways. This was true as we began looking for connections in the small community of El Cisne, Ecuador.
The significance of this town in the Loja province is profound. El Cisne is home to the Catholic Basilica, devoted to the Marian National Shrine of Our Lady of El Cisne. Mary, in the form of a 4-foot wooden statue, is central to the religious life of nearly all Lojanos. Beyond the religious aspect, the Virgin is also the economic foundation for El Cisne in terms of tourism.
God began forming the basis of my friendship with Sergio a short time before we moved near the town of El Cisne. 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 as the massive altar where the Virgin is sealed in a case at the top.
However, the visitors were often most impacted by the museum. It is devoted to the many articles of gold, jewels, crowns, clothing and various other artifacts donated to the statue in appreciation for, or request of, miracles. The museum offers its tour guides, and Sergio is one of these guides. Like the others, he is highly knowledgeable of the more than 400 years of El Cisne history and significance of the donated articles.
After bringing several groups of visitors to El Cisne, Sergio recognised me. He asked 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, as many tourists speak English. 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 students. And so the Lord began to open doors of opportunity that we had been hoping and praying for.
Some months later, I was able to visit Sergio in his home and our discussion turned to the Bible. He admitted he has never read it, and didn't know what it says. He was surprised to hear the message Jesus preached of grace - that salvation is a free gift through belief, that we do not try and earn God's favour through our good behavior. This was the first of hopefully many more spiritual conversations with Sergio.
As we live out our lives in this place where there are so few Christian churches, we are trusting in God's work of connecting us with people like Sergio, who God desires to come to true faith in Jesus.
Mark and Ruth Lans, and their two boys have worked in El Cisne since 2015. Their ministry is one of SIM's emphases in Ecuador, to see churches planted in the smaller cities and rural areas where there are communities that have no gospel presence.