On the Way Up in Ecuador
UP MEETS down in Ecuador. Here, in this smallest of the Pacific-coast nations of South America, the northern and southern hemispheres come together at the equator. Literally, ‘up north’ is just a footstep away from ‘down south.’
Observing Ecuador’s outline on a map may remind a person of a painter’s palette, with the Gulf of Guayaquil as a finger notch. Verdant jungles, white-tipped ocean waves, manicured valley fields and meandering rivers and estuaries bow to the towering snowcapped Andean peaks beneath an umbrella of blue skies. Torrid tropical temperatures and refreshing springtime climes are enjoyed simultaneously the year around. Add rainbow hues of the abundant crops of coffee, cacao, bananas, rice, cotton, melons, apples, grapes, pineapples, papayas and the distinctive naranjilla and the possibilities for artistic expression are limitless.
Ecuador’s population is as interesting and varied as its topography. Fair-skinned Spaniards, colorfully dressed indigenous groups, blacks from Africa and Jamaica, a sizable Oriental colony and a variety of European ancestries are easily distinguished. But the majority of the over 8,644,000 inhabitants, characterized by a hospitable nature and ready smile, are a mixture of different races.
In Ecuador a 300-year monopoly by the Catholic Church produced a status quo religious environment. But winds of change began to blow some forty years ago and seasons of Bible-based refreshment have continued to the present. Jehovah’s Witnesses have figured in this change and their story is one of devotion and stick-to-itiveness. Indeed, while certain religious influence appears to have been going downward, true Christianity has been on the way up in Ecuador.
Early Efforts Rewarded
Let us go back to 1935. Theodore Laguna and a partner brought the message of God’s kingdom to Ecuador in that mid-depression year. Their 10-month stay produced 1,432 hours of preaching activity, and some seeds of truth then sown fell on fine soil, producing excellent fruit 40 years later.
We move ahead to 1946. The Watchtower Bible School of Gilead was training hundreds of eager missionaries. That September, graduates Thomas and Mary Klingensmith, along with Walter and Mary Pemberton, arrived in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, fired with zeal for witnessing activity. Overcoming three centuries of tradition with their limited knowledge of the Spanish language proved to be a real challenge. Testimony cards, phonograph recordings of Bible talks and plenty of sign language resulted in the first organized meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses there in October 1946. Missionary efforts were blessed with an attendance of eight persons, including one Ecuadorian. The very next month, seven Ecuadorians and the four missionaries were preaching in the Magdalena section of Quito.
Among the seven persons who symbolized their dedication to Jehovah by undergoing water baptism in August 1947 were Ramon Redin and Pedro Tules. At age eighty-two, Brother Redin still serves as a special pioneer or full-time kingdom proclaimer. Brother Tules, now with over thirty-four years in full-time service, was the first Ecuadorian to attend Gilead School (in 1951).
Rewarding Work in Quito and Guayaquil
The calendar now moves to 1948. Six more Gilead-trained missionaries then came to Quito and an equal number established their home in the seaport of Guayaquil.
Lottie Foster, now an octogenarian, came to Ecuador with the 1948 group and still resides here. “I have been a sower and a waterer,” Sister Foster says of her thirty-three years in missionary service, adding: “Certainly I have helped many to the point of dedication to God. But in many cases I have placed literature and started studies and then the people would move. Later, at some of our larger assemblies, I would meet them again, baptized and going strong. . . . Truly, Jehovah makes his field produce.”—1 Corinthians 3:6-9.
Fern Noboa also came to Ecuador in 1948. Today Sister Noboa continues to serve with her family in a country she has made her home. Looking back, she recalls: “In the Magdalena section of Quito, the priest would ride through the streets on his bicycle and round up his mob to chase us away. At least once we were ‘rocked’ out of the territory.”
But persecution was unavailing, and Jehovah prospered the kingdom-preaching work. Thus, today there are fourteen congregations in Quito.
Guayaquil, the commercial Pacific port, was introduced to Bible truth in that same year, 1948. Albert and Zola Hoffman were among the first pioneers serving in that city. Sister Hoffman faithfully completed her earthly career in 1975, but Albert says of those first fruitful efforts:
“We worked in pairs to help each other with Spanish. Simply announcing a wonderful and important message, we turned on the phonograph. A crowd would gather and we offered the literature, especially the book ‘The Truth Shall Make You Free,’ which became one of the city’s most popular publications. . . . Four interested ones came to our first meeting.”
In March 1949, N. H. Knorr (then president of the Watch Tower Society) made his first visit to Ecuador. In Quito, eighty-two listened as he gave his discourse by candlelight. At Guayaquil, after only two and a half months of activity by the missionaries, a crowd of 280 gathered to hear Brother Knorr speak.
Until then the Society’s New York office had cared for the kingdom-preaching work in Ecuador. With fifty-three active kingdom proclaimers and fine prospects for expansion, however, a branch office was established in Guayaquil.
The zealous kingdom-witnessing activity did not go unnoticed. Other religious elements became concerned. Strangely, this initial unrest came, not from the Catholic Church, which claims to represent 95 percent of the populace, but from a Protestant evangelical group. But attacks on the Witnesses in the official evangelistic magazine aroused the interest of thinking people, many of whom ultimately embraced true Christianity.
The Roman Catholic Church was not to remain noncommittal. In 1951 mob violence broke out in Quito. However, Jehovah’s people took immediate action to ‘defend and legally establish the good news.’ (Philippians 1:7) Article 168 of Ecuador’s Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience in all its aspects and manifestations, including the free exercise of a person’s chosen religion.
Quito’s leading newspaper championed the Witnesses’ right to freedom of worship. Warnings to the clergy were issued by government authorities, and the clergyman responsible for the mob was humiliated into saying he would see that there was no recurrence of such action.
Some priests apparently felt that they were an authority in themselves, and before long there was more mob action against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Further appeals to the competent government authorities resulted in a cable from the Ministry of Government on December 3, 1952. It specified that Witness missionaries should be provided “due protection” from violent attacks. Filed in the offices of all the provincial governors in the country, this cable stands to this day as the official attitude regarding the legal standing of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Compliance with the law is another matter. Within two years, a mob of 200 attacked an assembly of Jehovah’s people in Riobamba. Again the clergy’s efforts boomeranged, however, for newspapers throughout the country championed the Witnesses’ right to freedom of worship.
The decade of the 1950’s was a time of growth and solidification. Brothers N. H. Knorr and M. G. Henschel visited Ecuador, and new missionary homes were established. The five congregations then began to be visited regularly by a traveling overseer. Presently there are six circuits in the country.
Space for meetings and branch operations was tight. So land on which to erect branch facilities was purchased in 1955. Excavations began in October 1956, and May 1957 saw the completion of a fine, sturdy building that provided room for growth and comfortable seating for 300 in its Kingdom Hall. By the early 1970’s the need to expand was evident. In December 1974 a building program was completed that quadrupled storage capacity and provided housing for up to twenty-four missionaries. And just outside Guayaquil in 1981, we acquired some property for an assembly site, a storage warehouse and possibly other facilities.
“Little Vatican” Succumbs
In 1953 missionaries were sent to Cuenca, Ecuador’s third-largest city, sometimes called “Little Vatican.” Progress was slow and the missionaries were moved out in 1955. But the seed had found some good soil. For instance, one youth, Carlos Sanchez, recognized the truth. “When I first attended the meetings,” he recalls, “I was so shy and self-conscious that I would take the stocking cap I wore and try to pull it down over my face so that others would not see me.” Today, his face radiates the joy of the truth that has transformed his life. Although paralyzed from the waist down due to a serious auto accident, Brother Sanchez continues zealously looking for other truth seekers.
Cuenca—the “Little Vatican”—changed, and in this a clergyman played a part. Harley Harris, now branch coordinator in Ecuador, recalls that in 1966 he, along with three other missionaries and a special pioneer, began making a concerted effort to establish a congregation there. He states:
“In our door-to-door work we began to hear of a Spanish priest . . . [who] had announced in church that if people were talking about the Bible, they should be listened to, since the Bible contained the truth. . . . I had a two-hour conversation with him in the missionary home. He requested a Bible and manifested a very receptive attitude. Opposed to charging for church services by category, since he felt that a Mass was a Mass with the same charge for all, this priest elicited the ire of the bishop and was dispatched to his native Spain. Nevertheless, his comments had loosened the mental shackles of many and our preaching efforts gathered productive momentum. Now in 1982 there are three active congregations of Jehovah’s people in Cuenca.”
The Work Moves South
As of October 1, 1956, Carl Dochow and Nicolas Wesley were assigned the entire southern province of El Oro. In the emerging agricultural center of Machala, they worked eighteen months before they saw one new kingdom publisher in the field. “Then the work ‘took off,’” recalls Brother Dochow. “In 1960 a giant step forward was the acquisition of the very first Kingdom Hall wholly owned by a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses [in this country, where halls had previously been rented] . . . It has been enlarged and remodeled since then and is indeed a credit to true worship.”
Machala now has three congregations, with an additional six throughout the province. And today the majority of the Kingdom Halls in Ecuador are owned by the local congregations.
Help From Abroad
At the 1958 international assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York City, an invitation was extended to families to serve in lands where there was a greater need for kingdom witnessing. It has been calculated that Ecuador received more of such help than any other South American country. In 1959 Brother Knorr talked to an audience of 120 who had come here. Several of these families are still serving in the Ecuadorian field.
More Work Ahead
Beginning with the forty-first class of Gilead School in 1966, dozens of missionaries have entered the field here in Ecuador. The results have been most gratifying.
Today there are 112 congregations in Ecuador. Although certain areas of the country still are waiting to hear the kingdom message, effort is being made to work this unassigned territory. That the potential for growth still exists is clearly indicated by the outstanding attendance at the Lord’s Evening Meal. With a peak of 5,666 kingdom publishers, the Memorial attendance in 1981 was 26,576.
It is evident that Jehovah is backing the kingdom-preaching activity in this land. While Christendom’s influence may well be on the way down in Ecuador, we rejoice that true Christianity is on its way up, to Jehovah’s eternal praise.
[Map on page 28]
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Gulf of Guayaquil