Sometimes we wake up expecting something to happen — then we discover that our expectations were wrong. But it’s all good, and sometimes the surprise can be better than the original plan.
Such was the case on our first Sunday in Ecuador. Two years ago we met Clever and Sophia, leaders of La Iglesia Indigena Unida Filipenses (the Philippians United Indigenous Church). Clever is native Shuar; his wife Sophia is native Kichwa. Their hope is to unite the indigenous church, bringing together rainforest tribes that have traditionally been divided by geography, language and culture. More recently, native peoples have even been divided by missions, with different mission agencies dividing Ecuador into smaller regions in order to focus their efforts at evangelization. Pastor Clever and Sophia see beyond this – they envision an indigenous church where there are no boundaries, where all are united as sisters and brothers in Christ.
On Sunday morning we showed up at their church, ready to surprise Sophia, Clever and their two children, Jabes and Liz. Instead, we were the ones who were surprised – the doors were shut and the lights turned off. We headed back into the rain and wandered the streets of Shell looking for another church. We drove around a few minutes until we came across a woman walking with a Bible in hand. We asked where she and her friends were going and she said she’d show us if we gave them a ride. We piled everyone into the car and headed to Puyo, a small city about 15 minutes down the road. We parked along a street downtown and she led us up a staircase into what she and others referred to as the Waorani Church.
After the service we met a missionary family, Taylor, Alisa and their five children, who graciously invited us for dinner at their home. We enjoyed the chance to connect and compare notes with them. Then we all headed out to the soccer field for a co-ed game with church members and neighborhood children.
Two days later we finally met up with Clever and Sophia. They were surprised to see us at their doorstep and dropped what they were doing to update us on events since our last visit in 2013. We then hopped in the car and drove up to a newly-settled area at the edge of town where the couple has founded a sister church. The area is populated with indigenous people who have recently migrated here from the rainforest. They speak Kichwa, Shuar and Waorani. The church is open-air, a small wooden shelter with mountains in the background where people sit in a circle to worship.
Before saying goodbye, Sophia invited us to help with her Friday afternoon children’s program and Clever suggested we join them for worship next Sunday. We are so grateful to make the connection and trust that our presence will encourage them as they seek ways to follow Christ as indigenous believers.