The Rise of Protestant Evangelism in Ecuador, 1895-1990

The Rise of Protestant Evangelism in Ecuador, 1895-1990

The Rise of Protestant Evangelism in Ecuador, 1895-1990

The Rise of Protestant Evangelism in Ecuador, 1895-1990

Synopsis

North American fundamentalist Protestants of all denominations and categories increasingly have journeyed to Latin America to proselytize and convert its people. Clearly, Alvin M. Goffin writes, they have been successful. He also concludes in this case study of one underdeveloped country that Protestant evangelistic activity in Ecuador has done more harm than good. While the Catholic church traditionally has dominated religious matters in Ecuador, Protestant groups - principally fundamentalists from North America - gained a foothold late in the nineteenth century. Goffin traces their growth in the context of nationalism, imperialism, religious tolerance, and cultural hegemony. Although he acknowledges some positive aspects of their influence, he argues that foreign-based Protestant groups contributed to the dissolution of indigenous cultures; that they have exploited the natural environment; and that they have often failed to promote social justice or offer relief for long-standing conditions of poverty. If,current growth rates continue, Goffin argues, Latin America may well have a Protestant majority by the early twenty-first century. Making Ecuador a metaphor for the region, Goffin suggests that the country can be considered a laboratory from which to study religious practice throughout Latin America.

Excerpt

I FIRST EXPERIENCED Ecuador in August 1972, arriving with my wife to visit her family. I returned on summer vacations in 1974 and 1976 and to live in 1978. My initial view of Ecuador was one of overwhelming wonder. As a product of the urban confines of New York City, I never had seen anything to compare to it in natural beauty. In Quito, where we stayed, the panoramas are magnificent. The region has majestic snow-capped volcanoes, lush green valleys, a deep-blue sky, crystal-clear air, and billowing white clouds.

On that first trip, I traveled throughout the country and learned much about the Ecuadorean people and culture. Among the places I visited was the city of Esmeraldas on the Pacific coast. An important port inhabited mostly by descendants of ex-slaves, Esmeraldas is home to a vibrant brand of marimba music and an oil refinery that serves as the terminal of the pipeline crossing the Andes from the eastern jungle to the Pacific. This pipeline is an important achievement and the vein through which the lifeblood of Ecuador flows. On a tour of the refinery, an engineer-guide explained how petroleum would help develop Ecuador. This new boom, like the earlier cacao and banana booms, was expected to transform the country. The guide's words were inspiring, and in that moment of hope, no one present doubted that what he suggested would fail to come about.

As the history of Ecuador since 1972 demonstrates, however, the country's development has been a long, difficult process that is far from complete. It was slowed by the external-debt problems of the 1980s. As it turned out, petroleum was a blessing, but it was also a curse that sapped the traditional spirit of the Ecuadorean people. It gave the pretense of development, not the reality. The material wealth produced by black gold never touched the lives of the overwhelming majority of Ecuadoreans.

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