Missionary from Ecuador Sara Flores' article in 'New World Outlook Magazine'
Illiniza Sur Mountain in Ecuador.
The United Evangelical Methodist Church of Ecuador
by Sara Flores
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. Matt. 28:1920 (RSV)
The United Evangelical Methodist Church of Ecuador (UEMCE) is a young church in the Methodist community. In 1964, it was organized as the United Evangelical Church of Ecuador, bringing together several denominations to carry out mission work in Ecuador. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was one of these uniting denominations. Then, after a long process of analysis concerning ecclesiastical identity, an important decision was reached by delegates in the National Assembly of 2001. Bishop Silvio Cevallos explains:**
“The current United Evangelical Methodist Church of Ecuador arose from an evangelical Protestant hybrid. Its historic ecclesial predecessor was called the United Evangelical Church of Ecuador, in which a variety of foreign missionary movements with various names were represented. The following churches cooperated and had theological influence in it: the United Church of Christ, the Church of the Brethren, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, the United Presbyterian Church, and the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.
“Although it achieved many things…the historical background demonstrates that it was a church without identity—without commitment to its own history—that did not put emphasis on its unity. Each congregation functioned according to the customs of its own founders. This caused many of the projects undertaken by the church to be thwarted and led to internal problems and power struggles.
“An important development was the General Consultation held in the 1970s with representatives from the cooperating mission agencies. An analysis was made of the national reality of the church and a report from a consultant on the results of the work of the mission in Ecuador was presented. At the end of this process, there was a break between parties and as a result, most of the mission agencies returned to their country of origin and withdrew their support, but The United Methodist Church and some others decided to continue support, continuing cooperation and fellowship.
“Over the years, the collaboration and ongoing partnerships—with Methodist churches from the region, Global Ministries of the UMC, and UMCOR when natural disasters struck—supported and affirmed the mission of the church in Ecuador. Finally in 2001, the United Evangelical Church of Ecuador decided to become a Methodist Church, establishing itself as the United Evangelical Methodist Church of Ecuador.”
Methodist Church Growth
Since 2001, the Ecuadorian church has maintained the life and witness of the 12 local congregations that united in this decision. By 2011, that number had increased to 16 congregations. Now, in 2015, the church has 20 Methodist congregations and seven new mission initiatives in both rural and urban areas of Ecuador. A main priority of the UEMCE is the strengthening of the current congregations and an emphasis on church growth. This emphasis is reflected in strategic planning and especially in the passion and daily efforts of pastoral staff and leaders in each local congregation.
The UEMCE is organized into two districts: the Sierra District, located in the Andean mountains, and the Coast District, located in the western tropical zone. Most congregations are located in small towns and rural villages, where a pastor and congregation carry out the work of evangelization while supporting families and communities. In the last National Assembly, held in November 2011, the church elected new leadership to guide its mission. The Rev. Silvio Cevallos was elected bishop, accompanied by an elected board. The work is carried out under the leadership of the bishop, along with the district superintendents, Pastor Alfredo Sierra Pilatuña of the Sierra District and Pastor Nolberto Vivas of the Coast District. The national treasurer is Pastor Freddy Balseca.
A Church for the Young
One day, a local pastor of a new indigenous congregation addressed the leaders of the church, saying: “I’m sorry brothers and sisters, in our church we cannot say we have a large church attendance because only children and youth fi ll the temple during our worship services. We don’t have many adults.” This was surely a divine irony. How many of us would love to have that kind of congregation in our Methodist churches all over the world? The UEMCE is a young church; our congregations include many children and youth. We thank the Lord that the Word of God can bring renewed life to the smallest of the small.
The presence of youth is a typical feature of the Methodist Church in Ecuador and is true in many parts of Latin America. We are challenged to reach these children and youth with the best tools that God can give us.
For me, accompanying the church in Ecuador is a wonderful task—not only for meeting the needs here but also for meeting the people. One aspect that enriches my life of faith is that the people of the Methodist Church in Ecuador are learning more and more about the theology, faith, and life of the people called Methodist.
A notable element of this is a comprehensive understanding of faith and Christian life— realization that Methodists take the gospel seriously, finding personal and social holiness as an expression of an integrated mission of the church. One of our indigenous leaders—a lay pastor named Alonso, who lives and works in the Otavalo region—shared this with me, expressing how happy he was to come to this understanding. He has enriched and broadened his understanding of faith through the workshops in theological and pastoral training that UEMCE organized.
Ordination of Women
Another important new element for many in the UEMCE is the acknowledgment of the full participation of women in the life of the church. Here in Ecuador, most evangelical churches do not allow women to assume the role of pastor. But having women as pastors is a practice that people in the UEMCE value. Our first ordained woman, the late Pastor Yolanda Vivas, gave great testimony to the work of the church in Ecuador. So the ordination of two other women as pastors was an important event in 2014. Blanca Viracocha and Carmen Castañeda are the two courageous women who have most recently responded to God’s call to ordained ministry.
Both of these women are excellent pastors with a vocation for ministry and gifts for service that give testimony to the love of God not only in their local congregations but also in the communities where they serve. Both are excellent examples of the integrated mission the Lord calls us to in the gospel.
UEMCE Mission Initiatives
Since the UEMCE is a growing church, the challenge of proclaiming the gospel fills the hearts and lives of our pastors and church members. As a result, we currently have seven new mission initiatives.
Chiguilpe Community is an indigenous T’sachila community that preserves its traditional language and culture. The indigenous leaders have come to know the Word of God and want to support a congregation and provide services for their community. In December 2014, this congregation, serving some 90 families, was officially inaugurated. Every week members hold Bible studies for children and the community.
El Prado Community is a ministry with children started in late 2012 just outside the town of Cayambe in the Sierra District. Some 60 children now meet for “Bible Encounters for Children” in a patio and room lent by a local family. This indigenous Quichwa community is a rural settlement located on a former hacienda.
Children’s Ministry in Quevedo is a ministry carried out in marginal neighborhoods in the city of Quevedo in the Coast District, where needy families live in houses constructed of cane. A Sunday school program reaches children with the Word of God, and visits are made by Volunteer-in-Mission medical teams.
There are four other mission initiatives in rural communities of the Coast District—in Chone, Calceta, Flavio Alfaro, and Manta, where there are now individuals and families committed to the gospel and desiring to grow in God’s Word. It is a challenge for UEMCE to carry out Jesus’ great commission in these communities where families work in tropical agricultural fields.
The central goal of mission initiatives is to develop an integrated ministry—with pastoral care and discipleship for children, adults, families, and the community guiding people to a life transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Laborers for the Harvest
It is wonderful to see the way families offer their yards, their homes, or a simple room to gather people together in worship for growth in faith. The new initiatives and many already-formed churches are in need of basic infrastructure and parsonages. They need our support.
The biggest challenges today are to support the passion for discipleship and church growth in the church in Ecuador, while, at the same time, strengthening the organization of the church and providing training for pastors and lay leaders. We need the support of and the sharing of experience by our sister Methodist churches in the region and around the globe. As Bishop Cevallos says:
“In our 12 years of existence, the UEMCE still has pastors who were originally from various other evangelical Christian organizations (such as Baptists, Pentecostals, and Foursquare) and who now feel they are Methodists because they are in the Methodist Church. Yet, many do not know Methodist history or Methodism’s basic principles. They have lived other realities with other emphases. This fact has motivated us to hold ongoing training in Wesleyan theology, with the help of brothers and sisters from other Methodist churches in Latin America. We feel that if we do not claim our Methodist identity, we cannot achieve our ideals together. For the future, we want to have a large, well-established church with deep theological and biblical foundations—a church that responds to the current reality of the context in which we live. We are preparing our leadership for that. We also want a church that puts aside old paradigms to become truly united. We must begin to write a new history from our own reality that glimpses a future of hope, with local congregations that demonstrate in their daily lives a personal holiness and social holiness as true Methodists in service of the Kingdom of God.”
My constant challenge and conviction as a missionary and as a servant-partner in God’s mission in Ecuador is to understand and accompany the goals and dreams of the Ecuadorian church. It is a blessing for me to be present at this time of consolidation, growth, and ongoing formation of this new Methodist Church. I pray that, together with Volunteers in Mission, local churches, annual conferences, and Global Ministries as partners in mission, this young church can be useful in God’s mission, guided by our Methodist sisters and brothers in Ecuador.
Sara Flores (Advance support #13988Z) serves with Global Ministries as a missionary in Ecuador. Originally from Bolivia, Sara served as a missionary there with her husband, Dakin Cook (Advance support #11919Z), before they were moved to Ecuador for their current assignment. Dakin translated Sara’s article from Spanish. This article was originally published in the May-June 2015 issue of New World Outlook magazine. Used by permission
**Since publication of this article, readers have noted that the fact that The United Evangelical Methodist Church of Ecuador is the only church in the Latin American region that can trace its origins to the former Evangelical United Brethren Church. In 1946, the EUB Board of Missions initiated a relationship with the United Andean Indian Mission.
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Pastor Laura Tocagon teaches a guitar class during an educational program for children in the United Methodist Church in Gonzalez Suarez, Ecuador. Photo: Paul Jeffrey
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An indigenous woman in Pastocalle, Ecuador.
Sara Flores, a United Methodist missionary, sings with children who live on the contested Hacienda El Prado, near Cayambe, Ecuador. Flores is from Bolivia. Photo: Paul Jeffrey
Staff members of Global Ministries, newly commissioned missionaries, and Ecuadoran facilitators attended the missionary training in Quito, Ecuador in 2014. Back row: Alberto Domingues; Alma and Richard Navarro, newly commissioned missionaries from the Philippines; Alonzo Tocagon; Catherine Whitlatch; Laura Tocagon. Front row: Adam Shaw and Alisana Bethel Tocagon. Photo: Sara Flores