Manuel Chacaguasay Naula is an indigenous pastor in Ecuador and an ethnic Quichua—a tribe made known through the work of Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint. Alcoholism and a resistance to the gospel preached by American ‘devils’ and ‘demons’ once prevailed in his rural farming village. Manuel came to salvation in Christ after sneaking out and traveling 30km to a neighboring community where he heard the gospel message. He now trains and strengthens other pastors, with assistance from APOYO, a ministry that works with the local church throughout Latin America.

APOYO (the Spanish word means support, help, or come alongside) was launched by Americo and Kathy Saavedra in 1992 as a leadership development ministry of HCJB Global (now Reach Beyond). Their three-fold goals include: mentoring and teaching leaders how to learn, discipleship with the goal of multiplying, and equipping leaders for global ministry.

The Saavedras, who now have three children and thirteen grandchildren, met in Peru, where Kathy, a graduate of Wheaton College, worked with Wycliffe Bible Translation. The couple moved to Ecuador in 1975 after Americo’s three years at Moody Bible Institute. Until 1992 they worked with HCJB Global (Reach Beyond) in evangelism, radio education, and discipleship ministry. Americo squeezed in a masters degree from Wheaton as well.

Challenges in Ecuador

Ecuador—named for the equator that passes through it—is a democratic republic similar to the United States, with a civil government comprised of executive, legislative and judicial branches. The country includes the renowned Galápagos Islands, which sit in the Pacific Ocean approximately 575 miles west.

Regarding issues the Church faces, Americo says the country is at a crossroads, with Western values and struggles that have trickled down south. Special-interest groups contend for policy changes for gay marriage and abortion. Poverty is another significant challenge.

Americo says that in the beginning of their ministry they had to pursue church leaders around Ecuador to offer their APOYO training. But before long the Church realized the need in this area. They now partner with churches all over Latin America to train pastors and lay leaders—men and women.

Manuel is just one example of those the Saavedras work with. His story is a testimony of the power of Christ. He and other new Christians were once marginalized, insulted and assaulted in their village. But now, “there is only one family that has not yet accepted the Lord as Savior in my community,” he says.

Growth through partnerships

The Saavedras report that different denominations work together. “We want to move beyond just converts, to quality and depth in discipleship.”

Besides those alliances, they partner with The Gospel Coalition-International Outreach to obtain training materials for their work with indigenous pastors and church leaders. They are deeply grateful for eight cases of books that TGC-IO Director Bill Walsh and his team took down in July of 2013.

Americo says, “Books are like gold. Literature is expensive; we have to depend on outside groups for help.”

“We’re not into book distribution, we’re into book learning,” he explains. “People need help in understanding what they are reading.” The couple says they use IO materials very purposely, teaching people learning skills as they read.

APOYO’s goal is to train competent trainers who can build strategic discipleship ministries for the strengthening of the local church.  One of the ways in which this is done is by forming two-year learning programs in local communities. They’ve been blessed by groups who come down to teach by translation, but Kathy says their real need is for bilingual teachers. “The people need to be taught in their own language. No matter how good a translator is, it’s just not the same as a facilitator who speaks the local language and understands the cultural context.,” she says.

Cross-cultural work

Bill Walsh has a short answer for the seemingly impossible task of getting sound theological materials into the hands of leaders in remote villages: “Grass-roots!”  He says “the number of American Christians engaged in cross-cultural work around the world is staggering. We decided to take advantage of this massive force of global-minded Christians traveling everywhere.”

International Outreach uses that grass-roots effort to connect mission teams and global travelers to supply partners like Americo and Kathy Saavedra, those who work to strengthen the church in far-off places by strengthening the leaders.