Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Short Recounting of Iglesia Verbo's Story in Cuenca

Carolyn Anne and I attended our first ever "Iglesia en Hogar" or "Home Church" small group meeting for those of us who speak English as our home language here in Cuenca, Ecuador.  It met at our church here, Iglesia Verbo Cristiana in Cuenca, in the cafeteria in order to provide a familiar and reasonably central location, as well as allow enough space and time saving access by the pastors who are involved with this new group.  

Verbo, which means "Word" in the action (verb) sense versus "Palabra," which means "Word" in the subject (noun) sense (and is analogous to the Greek word Logos), was named from its first bookstore in Guatamala decades ago.  The bookstore was called Verbo, ergo the people who met next to the bookstore were referred to by the local people by the same name.  A name was born.  

Verbo actually got started in Ukiah, California according to my own research on the Internet in the mid to late 1970's. . . contemporary with what was going on in Southern California and the "Jesus People" and beach/hippie culture with the Calvary Chapel movement.  By the 1980's Verbo was in Central America, Guatamala in particular.  

Verbo's entry into Ecuador was in Quito at first, where difficulty in establishing the church was encountered.  Several trying years were spent getting the congregation started there, but they are still there in Quito, and today in fact have several congregations in that city.  Cuenca came later, 27 years ago according to one of the founders, and began as a home church of just a few families. . . nothing big.  For years certain founding members, originally from the United States, learned to adapt to a new culture, a new language, and a new country.  Things stayed small and the church stayed within home churches meeting in various locations in Cuenca.  There was no central "church" facility or meeting place in those early years in the late 1980's.

Later on, as Verbo got to about 350 members give or take, a couple of leaders attended a theater showing of "Titanic" (which dates the event to circa 1997) in the downtown El Centro area and said to themselves, "I think this place would be a good place to have a church!"  They investigated, and procured the venue for a meeting place for Verbo.  That rather dated theater is still in existence today, though not well used as far as I know.  I walk by it on a regular basis still.  

Without realizing the future consequences for ministry in a strategic way, falling into the opportunity as it presented itself, Verbo performed probably a stroke of genius: the highly Roman Catholic culture of Ecuador and Cuenca looks down on its members attending a church other than the Roman Catholic church.  By renting a theater, one could say they were not "in church" while attending Verbo.  They would say they were visiting friends at a well known theater.  And they were!  Verbo grew in an exponential way at this point, and though the set up and tear down of sound systems, etc. took a toll on the volunteer members, it was all well worth it.  The populace could hear the worship going on inside the theater, and the curious could come on in and experience what was going on.  More people told more people about what this Verbo was doing in this rented theater space.  And the attendance grew, to the Glory of God.  

It took two years to build just the sanctuary (established circa 2002) on the land Verbo now uses as its church campus at 10 de Agosto y Loja.  The rest of the building - cafeteria, offices, classroom meeting space upstairs - was built as funds were raised over the years.  Nothing ever given to the congregation from outsiders or the city or any other source, everything came from the resources of the congregation's giving.

A couple of events has helped Verbo become better known to the Cuenca community over the years.  The previous Roman Catholic archbishop would get on the radio in Cuenca on a regular basis and denounce Verbo and what they were doing.  He had a real antipathy towards any religious group that wasn't Roman Catholic, apparently.  The net effect was that Verbo's name was on everybody's mind, and the brave and curious would inquire of Verbo.

The second development was really so very complementary and humble.  The current archbishop, which is in Guayaquil currently, but started out in Cuenca back then, would refer people in the Roman Catholic church to Verbo for counseling and/or instruction on marriage issues, for example.  "We don't have what you need. . . Verbo does.  Go there!" he would say.  Truly humble and amazing.  These referrals would come from the reputation Verbo was getting in terms of restoring the family, and providing real answers from God's Word in ministering to them.   

Once, the Roman Catholics came to Verbo and asked for help in observing a particular event in the life of the community.  "What would you like us to do for you?" Verbo's leaders asked.  "Preach the sermon, lead the worship of God in song," they replied.  "What will you be doing?" the Verbo leaders inquired.  "We'll give the closing prayer," they allowed.  Talk about open doors in a Roman Catholic venue. . . and there it was!  This story in my mind exemplifies Verbo's attitude towards others who claim a faith.  Work with what you have and seek common ground, versus finding ways to not work together and stay separate. . . and have no open doors to do ministry that could bring Glory to God and truly be a blessing to people.  In a country such as Ecuador in a region such as Latin America, I find that this approach has much merit.  

All the while as Verbo was growing in its former downtown theater location, as well as its current one, all kinds of people were drawn to what God was doing in Verbo.  It had a kind of "rock star" quality to the community for a time as people would hear the church's name and remark, "Oh, my doctor goes to that church!"  Or, "Isn't that the church that my neighbors go to?"  To this day the name of Verbo is well known in the community, especially for the outreach ministries it continues to do, such as Clinica Hogar which ministers to the poor providing needed medical treatments and services.  

I don't know that this information is out there on the Internet in one place, so as a courtesy I thought I'd provide it here.    Soli Deo Gloria!       

No comments:

Post a Comment