CUENCA, ECUADOR–The mission trip really started before they left Florida. While waiting in the Ft. Lauderdale airport for their flight to Ecuador, a team of 10 pastors had a divine appointment with a couple waiting to board a flight to Peru.
“We were seated in the wrong gate, and this couple was also in the wrong gate,” said Charles Higgins, pastor of Westview Baptist Church in Sanford. “The lady had been diagnosed with cancer. They were looking for some peace in their life.”
Three men from the team shared the plan of salvation with the couple, who in brokenness and tears, invited Jesus to be Lord of their lives.
Thus began the vision trip led by Craig Culbreth, Florida Baptists’ catalyst for the east region, and William Tyler, pastor of Cedar Bay Baptist Church in Jacksonville. The team, comprised of pastors from the Jacksonville area, Sanford, Longwood and West Virginia, traveled Sept. 14-21, to observe first-hand the work of Gary and Dena Pate who serve as missionaries to children in the Southern Andes of Ecuador.
The team spent the week in the town of Cuenca, where the Pates reside. Each day they boarded a bus and drove up to two hours one way to visit one of the nine rural villages where the Pates conduct kids’ clubs each week in remote areas where there is little or no evangelical work. Led by the Pates and three Ecuadorian adults who work with them, the clubs offer Bible stories, verse memorization, crafts, games and refreshments.
“It’s like a Vacation Bible School presentation, but on steroids,” shared Tyler.
“They want to hear the gospel, to be loved. It was neat to see the kids listening, so attentive,” said Eric Scholten, First Baptist Church in Longwood.
The team of pastors also had the opportunity to share a meal and time of praise and worship with a group of church planters and their wives.
“They were very hospitable and had a passion for reaching their communities for Christ,” said Higgins.
Another highlight of the trip was when Carlos Mendez, pastor of Iglesia Nuevo Comienzo in Sanford, led the desk clerk at their hotel to Christ.
Gary and Dena Pate from Callahan have lived in Ecuador for the past eight years. The Southern Baptist couple is sent out by their home congregation, North Jacksonville Baptist Church, as independent missionaries.
“Pate Ministries is a miracle of God,” said Pastor Herb Reavis, “and North Jacksonville Baptist Church enthusiastically supports this Gospel spreading ministry! Through their ministry to children, whole families have been impacted and local churches have been constructed.”
According to Tyler, as a result of this vision trip, the pastors who went are planning to “engage their church and get others involved” to help reach the children of the Southern Andes.