God has a way of putting us in places and situations to reveal a glimpse of His glory, seemingly when we least expect it. This happened to our team on the evening after our first full day of site investigation and exploration in Quininde, Ecuador. We were all pretty worn out and hungry from a busy day and it was getting close to dinner time, but in an effort to be efficient with our time in-country (or so we thought), we spontaneously decided to go visit a medical clinic in the middle of the town that is operated by another local doctor, Dr. Ayo (more on him in at the end of this post). We thought this would be a quick trip into town simply to see some of the things we needed to incorporate into the design of the Corporacion Mision San Lucas (CMSL) medical clinic and then we could check that off the “to-do” list and we would be back in no-time for dinner. Little did any of us know what God had in store for us that evening…
After touring Dr. Ayo’s medical clinic, we were all set to head back to the place we were staying for dinner (as expected) when Dr. Yeny and Arlene (the ministry leaders) came up with the idea to go eat at one of CMSL’s ministry projects (where our dinner was actually being prepared). This would be much more efficient because they would not have to bring the food back to where we were staying. Plus, it just so happened that it was only a few blocks away from Dr. Ayo’s clinic, so we could walk there and get to our dinner sooner. Being a group of logical thinking engineers and architects we did not even need to break out any decision matrix spreadsheets to figure out that this plan made the most sense! So…off we went.
As we started walking down the road towards an area of town known as Malecon where the ministry project is located, we started noticing that it was getting darker and darker as we ventured further away from the lights of the main street where the clinic was located. The surrounding environment was fairly “typical” of what I have seen in other partially urbanized areas in the developing world, but to give you a little better idea if you have never been somewhere like this: it was somewhat similar to walking down a dimly lit, unmaintained urban street or alley in America…only there was sewer running in the open gutter along the edge of the streets, buildings that appeared to be unfinished or abandoned were actually inhabited, and the smell was similar to what you would experience among a commune of hippies on the 3rd day of a series of Widespread Panic shows (curious to see how many of my readers will resonate with that last analogy). It was the kind of place that your mother would warn you to stay away from at night IN AMERICA and your own good common sense would lead you away from under most circumstances, as well, without some sort of serious protective escort. But here we were being led by a female Ecuadorian doctor who was at best 4’-10” tall with high heels on (Dr. Yeny) and a female Canadian missionary who hardly had much size advantage on her (Arlene) and as far as I know neither of them were concealing a weapon (other than the Holy Spirit)!
It is amazing how you can read or be told something and that can be somewhat moving, but seeing it firsthand brings a whole new life to it. We made a turn into Malecon (a riverside slum mostly inhabited by African Ecuadorians) and the best word I can use to describe it is “darkness”. Not just a physical darkness, but there was a sense of spiritual darkness as well. Again, this area is one of the poorest areas in Quininde and has some of the highest concentrations of drug use, prostitution, sexual abuse and gang violence in the city. You could have someone murdered in this area for as little as $20! Arlene had told us all this, but it didn’t really set in as reality until we ended up there…at night…as obviously out of place as a group of mostly white people would be walking through the ghetto of Detroit…only we were in Ecuador! At this point I am thinking “we are lost”…“we need to turn around”… “at least I can run faster than some of the other people on my team”…“but, where would I run”… “never make decisions on an empty stomach without the assistance of a spreadsheet” … etc.
To my surprise, we continued walking down the street. After walking a block or two, it seemed that the walls of darkness were closing in on us…
…the walls COMPLETELY fell down and LIGHT came through! What started as one child running out from her home shouting with joy as she saw Yeny and Arlene pass by became another, and another, and another, until we were completely surrounded by a large group of children that were all coming out to hug these incredible ladies (and us as well just because of our association with them)! I could literally see the darkness lift off of the street as these children began running out to us and I couldn’t help but think of Jesus in this instance. I have read in scripture of children running to Jesus, but (in this moment) I saw it with my own eyes as the affect of these two ladies who had obviously been Jesus to this community was unmistakable!
After we arrived at the CMSL ministry center, another piece of the story we had been told (about how their involvement began in this area) came alive. They knew God was calling them to start a ministry center in this area and had been praying for God to make it possible. They found a piece of property for sale for $15,000. It was the last piece of vacant property in the area and just so happened to be the largest piece of property around but was incredibly overgrown. It had been abandoned by the owner because he kept getting robbed as he was building a home on the property. CMSL offered $11,000 and the owner reluctantly agreed. Part of the sale transaction included having the property cleared of all the overgrowth and appraised. After CMSL sent teams in to help clear and clean up the property, it was appraised at over $50,000 because of the size of the property and also because of an existing 2 story concrete building that the ministry did not initially know was on the property due to the amount of overgrowth! The owner now realizing his property was significantly more valuable changed his mind about the sale. A few months later a man offered the owner $32,000 to buy the property with plans to turn it into a prostitution house. Hearing this, Dr. Yeny met with the owner, told him their plans for using the property for ministry and pleaded with him not to make the sale to this other man. The owner less than politely told her that he would do as he pleased with his property. Dr. Yeny and her team felt very defeated at this point and even felt like they enabled this man to find the property for a prostitution house because they cleared the property and cleaned it up for him. But they knew God’s call was real and they had been praying for salvation to come to this area for some time now, so they continued to pray for God to intervene in this situation. A few weeks later the owner called up Dr. Yeny and said that he didn’t have peace with selling to this man and decided he would sell the property to CMSL for the originally agreed upon $11,000!
Now, they have a fully functioning mission project at this location that is nothing short of a miracle of God. Lives are being rescued and transformed! CMSL has encouraged the community to take ownership over this ministry center and because of that investment, they have not had a single instance of robbery or violence take place on the property since they purchased it! The CMSL ministry projects are aptly named Creciendo Con Esperanza, which means “Growing Hope” and that is exactly what they are doing in this community. Little girls who would be working in a new prostitution house BY THE AGE OF 12 and little boys who would be getting involved in gang violence are instead living with hope in an eternal Savior because of the love shown to them by this ministry!
Out of the darkness…
…into His marvelous light!
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. -1 Peter 2:9
P.S. – A little more information on Dr. Ayo:
Dr. Ayo is a friend of Dr. Yeny and a member of the CMSL Board. He generously hosted our team at a very nice retreat property he owns in Quininde. Before he became a believer, he used this property as a country club for rich people in Quininde; and in his medical practice, he was one of the main providers of abortions in the community. Since coming to Christ, he uses his property to serve ministries like CMSL and he no longer provides abortions in his clinic. He allows CMSL to bring the kids from their ministry projects to his property on occasion to play sports and to go swimming in his spring-fed pool. The only problem is that CMSL does not have access to the property all the time since it is also used by other groups. They are hoping to utilize a portion of the property we are master planning to serve as another retreat location for their ministry project kids when it is completed.