by Paul Olver, Latin America Leadership Team
A severe earthquake struck the northwest coast of Ecuador on April 16, 2016. Measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, it was followed by 700 aftershocks, some measuring 6.7 or even 7.2. It was the worst natural disaster to hit that country since 1949. Over 600 people lost their lives, almost 30,000 people were injured, and damage to property is estimated to be $3 billion.
There are two clusters of Free Methodist Churches in Ecuador. Our brothers and sisters in the capital city of Quito, 110 miles from the coast, were rocked and frightened by the quakes, but there was little damage. The other group of churches in Esmeraldas is much closer to the epicenter. There infrastructure is poor, and many people live in poverty. Several hundred children are fed and taught by our churches with the assistance of International Child Care Ministries. Although many buildings were damaged or destroyed, thankfully none of the people in our network were killed or suffered serious injury.
Within a couple of days our friends in Ecuador received a love offering from the Bishops Crisis Response Fund. Members and churches in Quito mobilized themselves, buying and collecting supplies. They took a truckload to Esmeraldas to visit the churches and help in the relief and recovery efforts. Area Director Delia Nüesch-Olver was in close contact with the leadership and offered to send more aid. Pastora Eunice Alvarez gratefully declined further financial assistance saying, “It’s good for us to sacrifice and serve.” Asked how people could provide support she said, “Tell them to please pray for us.”
The pastors at Seattle First Church had planned to take an offering toward earthquake recovery the following Sunday. When they heard Pastora Eunice’s response they changed gears. In their Sunday services people were encouraged to come to the altar and write out prayers for Ecuador on cards.
Not long later Pastora Eunice and Pastora Mariana Mafla went to Medellin, Colombia, to represent the Ecuador District at the Latin America Area Leaders Summit. At the opening session Area Director Dr. Delia Nüesch-Olver told the story of the prayer cards and presented them to the leaders from Ecuador. All the Summit participants prayed for and blessed the churches in Ecuador and the recovery efforts. It was moving to everyone to see this tangible expression of the network of relationships in the Free Methodist family.
When they returned from the Summit Pastors Eunice and Mariana shared the prayer cards with the pastors in the district and told the story of this church such a long way away that was praying for them. One pastor responded: “We can’t read what the prayer cards say, but we know what this means. We feel loved and supported.”