The Missionary – Our son-in-law Fernando is a missionary in Cuenca, Ecuador. There was something different about Fernando from the time he first came to know Jesus as his Savior. He was filled with a great zeal to bring others to know Him, as well. He had a burden for his family, for his friends, for the people of his city. Our daughter Laura met Fernando when she went as a college sophomore to Cuenca on a nearly year-long college work/study program called Arriba! One of the young men in the group led Fernando to the Lord. Although the others in his family were not yet believers, they welcomed the entire group of young Americans into their home. Before Laura returned to the States, she and Fernando knew they were beginning to have feelings for one another and shortly after she left they began a courtship via telephone, video and mail. (This was pre-email and Facebook days—and before cheap phone rates, too!) Eighteen months later Fernando came to the States and they were married.
I knew from the beginning they would be returning to Ecuador as missionaries. With his zeal to win his family and countrymen to the Lord, and her great love for the people, it was no surprise that God would call them to that mission field. As Laurie’s mother it was hard to say goodbye to them and my grandchildren when the time came, but how could I say no to the Lord? If this was His will for them, then who was I to try to hold them back?
Twenty years and seven children later, they are currently working to start a third church in Cuenca. Everyone in Fernando’s family has come to know Jesus as their Savior, including his parents, grandmother, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. Some of his friends and many others have met the Lord, as well, through his witness to them. Fernando is bold in evangelizing and takes every opportunity to tell others about the Lord.
The Method – Fernando has an advantage over American missionaries. Of course, language is never the obstacle it often is for gringos on the field. More importantly, however, as an Ecuadorian and Cuencano himself, Fernando has an understanding of the mindset, culture and religious background of his people that other missionaries will seldom achieve. American missionaries will often come into a mission field and labor for decades trying to turn a small group of people into a carbon copy of an American church. American hymns, American programs, American methods. They fail to meet the people where they are and how they think, believing that their ways are superior to the native culture of the people they are trying to win.
Fernando has been criticized in the past by older, more “experienced” missionaries for, what seems to them, his unorthodox ways. The hymns he uses may have the traditional words and music we know, but sung with guitars, panpipes and folk drums—the music of the people. Sunday is traditionally very much a family day, gathering with extended family after the morning church service. Because this is very important culturally, they do not have Sunday evening services. Fernando leads Bible studies several evenings during the week, however, with couples or small groups as a means to not only discipleship, but also evangelizing.
Ninety-five percent of the people of Ecuador are practicing Catholics. Only three percent are “evangelicals” (and included in that statistic are several cults such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and the like.) And then there is the tiny, “secret” population of Jews in Ecuador. Hidden for centuries because of the persecution they had suffered in Europe, only in recent years has it become known that there are about 700-1000 Jews in all of Ecuador, or 00.01% of the total population. Fernando, suspecting that there was Jewish blood in his background from certain memories he had of his grandfather, had his DNA tested and confirmed, that indeed, he is part Jewish. This has opened a unique door to him. Having been raised in Catholicism, finding Christ as his Savior and converting to an evangelical, born-again Christian, and then discovering his roots in Judaism, Fernando has found that door opened to him on all three fronts as far as evangelism is concerned. He understands the Catholic for he has been there. He has a love for the Jew and has studied deeply how the Old Testament and Jewish feasts and holidays relate to Jesus Christ, salvation and His church. In short, he knows how to reach these people and is prepared when the Lord brings them into his path.
Then there are the unconventional methods Fernando uses to bring witnessing opportunities his way. Even when the people are only nominally Catholic, they are often suspicious and resistant to talking on a one-on-one basis with an evangelical, considering them all, including Baptists, to be cults. He recently invited a group of the friends of his youth up to his family’s country property for a mini-reunion. It was an opportunity to touch base with them again and reestablish relationships. They knew what he been like in his youth before he knew the Lord, and they had all seen or, at least heard of, the change in their old friend Fernando Naranjo. They were curious but not willing to talk in a large group about spiritual things.
One by one, Fernando has invited these men and others to a non-threatening, relaxing atmosphere where they are more willing to open up about their spiritual needs and listen to Fernando’s presentation of the Gospel. He takes literally Jesus’ words in Matthew 4:19, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” and takes them fishing, or teaches them to tie flies. In a peaceful situation without interruptions, the conversation turns to spiritual things and Fernando can share his testimony and how they, too, can know Jesus and have peace with God. Finding a common thread of interest opens doors and smoothes the way to evangelism.
That common thread is not always fishing. The Naranjos have recently discovered a little mini-golf place on the outskirts of town. Fernando enjoys golfing, although he doesn’t get to go very often. He decided to take the kids there for mini-golf one day and they had a great time. While they were there they met the family who owns the place. There seemed to be an instant connection between the two families and they struck up a friendship. The best thing was, though, that this family was open and curious about the things of the Lord. Fernando has been back several times to hit a bucket of balls or take the kids, striving to keep the lines of communication open. Each time he went, the owner had more questions for him about the Bible and the Lord. Fernando had his eye on a Bible he had seen at a bookstore for this man and was planning to buy it as soon as he had the money to get it.
Recently Fernando had left a set of golf clubs that someone gave him, as well as a pair of white golf shoes that were like new at the place. The man said folks asked if he had things like that for sale from time to time and Fernando wanted to sell them. The next time he went, the owner said with a grin that he was getting a pair of white golf shoes from his family for Father’s Day and asked Fernando how much he wanted for the shoes. Fernando replied that he had planned to sell them for $55 but for him he would take $30. The man was elated and hurried off to get the $30. As Fernando told Laurie about the exchange later he said, “I’m going to use that money to buy that Bible for him!” A pretty good trade, wouldn’t you say? God’s Word and possibly salvation for an entire family someday for a pair of golf shoes!
The Message – Jesus met people where they were and treated them as individuals with specific needs. Zaccheus. The woman at the well. Nicodemus. Blind Bartimaeus. The thief next to Him on the cross. The Bible says, “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” (Matthew 9:35) When Christ shed His blood on that cross, it was not for the world as a whole, but for each individual person in the world to determine what he or she would do with the gift of salvation that Jesus offered—accept it or reject it. His message was simple. It is the Gospel and the Gospel is this: Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: I Corinthians 15:1-4)
God calls us all to share the Gospel. He does not expect us all to be great evangelists or preachers or to go to a foreign mission field. But He does want us to share what God has done for us, and to be willing and able to share the way of salvation in our own simple way when He brings others to our path. We are all different and have different gifts and callings. Our methods may be different, but the message is the same: how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.
Fernando, like Simon Peter and his brother Andrew; like the sons of Zebedee, John and James, is a fisher of men. He golfs for God. He reaches out to people with an understanding of their cultural and religious backgrounds. He uses whatever methods will give him an opportunity to bring someone to Jesus. Please pray for Fernando and Laurie as they minister in Cuenca, Ecuador.
Oh, and by the way—Feliz Cumpleaños—er, Happy Birthday—on Wednesday, Fernando! We love you!