President J. Avril Jesperson had arrived in the Andes Mission, headquartered in Lima, barely five weeks before a bombshell event. That event is recorded only briefly in the mission history under the date of 22 September 1965: “President Jesperson spent the day going over the mail, among which was a letter from Apostle Kimball of the Council of the Twelve, giving his itinerary of a proposed visit to the mission the first part of October. Elder Kimball also desires to open the mission in Ecuador.”
In so understated a way did the gospel come to Ecuador.
Two elders went to Quito to begin proselyting before Elder Kimball’s visit less than three weeks later. The mission history records 8 October 1965 as “one of the greatest days ever spent … a glorious time.”
Elder Kimball spent that day mingling with people in marketplaces, communicating with them despite mutual linguistic incomprehensibility, and pleading for them with power in his dedicatory prayer: “They have waited so long, our Father, for the gospel to come to them. … We ask thee to bless them, Father, that their hearts may be warmed and that they may be filled with the glorious truths of thy Gospel.”
So it was not “opening” that the hearts of the people needed, but “warming,” and that warming has come through the dedication, service, and unstinting love of the missionaries and members for each other. One nonmember in Quevedo, according to Branch President Vicente Cedeño, saw a friend on drugs become a decent, hard-working member of the Church and commented approvingly, “If these gringos had come at an earlier time, this society would not be what it is.”
President Cedeño adds, with a touch of justified pride, “We are very pleased with the progress in the Quevedo Branch. In 2 1/2 years we have built a membership of 300, quite an accomplishment by national standards.” In fact, the members of that single branch represent a tenth of Ecuador’s 3,226 members, as reported in 1975’s membership summary. (Membership is well over 4,000 now.) And an estimated 90 percent of Quevedo’s baptisms took place as a direct result of referrals, particularly from the family home evening program.
The Ecuadorians set high standards for themselves. Felix Vaca, president of the Guayaquil District, took a look at family home evening statistics that were hovering between 30 and 35 percent and set a district goal of 50 percent. He notes with approval that only two or three students per branch attended a few years ago; now each branch averages thirty to thirty-five students. The number of professional and technically trained people now joining the Church is also increasing.
Sister Claudina Valarezo of the Guayaquil First Branch and mother of three finds that being a Mormon is quite an advantage. “Many times;” she says, “the label of ‘Mormon’ will open doors to high positions because of the Mormons’ reputation for honesty and moral principles.” She attributes part of this success to the family home evening programs broadcast on television that have impressed many Ecuadorians.
Ladisiar Barriga, second counselor in the Guayaquil Third Branch and public relations director of the mission, is among those who find that being a Mormon is a real advantage. “I owe my current job to the fact that I am a member of the Church,” he says. Before he joined the Church, he found professional opportunities closed to him through lack of preparation. When he was called as public relations director for the mission, he found himself suddenly experienced in ways that opened to him the position of public relations director in a health clinic. He is proud of the amount of local leadership in the Church in Ecuador. “Few realize that it is the best Latino-directed Church we have in this country.”
Sister Evangelina de Leon of the Guayaquil Third Branch proudly lists her job as a visiting teacher before her job as Relief Society president. “Enthusiasm is prevalent,” she says, and speaks glowingly of “members actively engaged in searching for prospective members and in fellowshipping inactive ones.” She herself met the missionaries when they called by her sister’s home; she and her husband joined; a month later, their four daughters followed them.
Sister Delia Fernandez, Relief Society president of the Guayaquil Second Branch and Sunday School teacher for the sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds, warmly testifies: “I have been a member for three years and I do not think I will ever find the way to adequately thank the Lord for sending missionaries to my door to bring me good tidings.” She holds frequent cottage meetings in her home and some of her friends have already been baptized. Even the others “understand that the Church is true from what I tell them.” An ardent genealogist as well, she summarizes: “Since I joined the Church, everything has changed for me. I feel that the Lord is always with me. I have been separated from my husband for eight years, but when I am with the members of the Church, I feel I am with my family.”
Ecuador itself is a rugged country of varied beauties. Named because the equator passes through it, it is the smallest country, next to Uruguay, in South America. Its lands range from Pacific-washed coastline, with the colorful Galapagos Islands lying offshore, to the semidesert lands and plains of the eastern sector. In the middle are two ranges of glacial Andes. The population is largely Indian, although the political and social history of the country has been traditionally controlled by a smaller group of European extraction. Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, lies on the coast; its capital, Quito, is in the interior highland. Largely an agricultural country, Ecuador is known for its dairy products, maize, potatoes (which grow at an altitude as high as 11,800 feet), and barley.
Although Spanish is the official language of Ecuador, most of the people speak Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire, which extended into Ecuador in the late fifteenth century. The Spaniards first sighted Ecuador in 1526 and used the country as their base from which to conquer Peru. Spanish rule gave way to independence under a lieutenant of Simon Bolivar in 1822, and Ecuador, part of a federation between Venezuela and Colombia, became a separate state in 1829.
The Church in Ecuador looks forward optimistically to the future. About 100 of its young people are registered in seminary, with an additional hundred, including adults, in institute classes. Nine chapels are either finished or under construction. Fourteen welfare services missionaries are teaching the people nutrition, sanitation, and health care. Its six districts and thirty branches are penetrating deeper and reaching out further with each passing month.
But its great achievement is in the hearts of the members. In President Vaca’s words: “My testimony is that ever since I have been a member of the Church, I am a different man. I love people more and I know what my role is here on the earth. I can testify that Christ directs His church. I have seen counsels of leaders—including some of my own to young people—come to pass, and I know that someday I will be with my Father in heaven if I keep His commandments.”