Near the Ecuadorian border with Colombia, there is an island so remote that villagers can only reach the mainland by a 45-minute canoe ride. Here in Pampanal de Bolivar, wood homes balance on stilts to protect from monthly flooding. Under the homes, children play amidst trash stuck in the mud and muck—there is no trash collection or sewage system here.
A church in a neighbouring community had been reaching out for a year to this village, building relationships and sharing the gospel. And in recent years, through Compassion’s partnership model with the local church, we have been able to plant a new church on this remote and impoverished island.
You probably know (we hope!) that Compassion is all about the local church. All of our programs are done in partnership with local churches, and we ultimately exist to help these churches fulfill the mission God has given them—reaching out to heal the material and spiritual needs around them.
One of our latest exploratory steps in supporting the local church in her mission is church planting.
There are plenty of people in need in the world, but one challenge is being able to reach those whose needs are the greatest. Often, the poorest of the poor live in rural areas or communities with little infrastructure and few churches—or few churches that intentionally disciple children. But in order to best care for children’s needs, Compassion’s sponsorship program operates in churches that have things like classrooms, washrooms and a kitchen.
This was becoming an obstacle in countries like Ecuador. Ecuador’s economy has been rising in recent years, but there are still many people living in desperate poverty in remote communities. At the same time, many churches in these communities have a strong vision to plant churches. But in poor areas, these church plants often take the form of a group of people meeting in a pastor’s house, with few resources to build facilities.
These two needs came together—Compassion’s need for church partners with facilities to care for the needs of children and churches in Low and Middle Income Countries with a vision to plant churches in the neediest areas.
As an extension of partnership between local churches in these areas and Compassion, as well as occasionally through collaboration with other church-planting organizations, we are seeing amazing things happen through these church plants. Forgotten communities that have never had an evangelical church are not only receiving vital care for their children, but are also hearing the gospel for the first time.
In places like Pampanal de Bolivar, the church plant allows children—who once spent their days unsupervised—to receive nutritious food, educational support and health care. The church is also advocating for the rights of children, in a culture in which Compassion’s partnership facilitator suspects that nearly every child has faced abuse of some kind.
Children and their families are hearing the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ, and these communities are slowly being transformed through the light of the local church.
An interview about church planting
With Jordan Linscombe, Compassion’s Global Supporter Engagement Manager
Why is this partnership needed?
Our national offices know where the pockets of poverty are. They want to further reach children and families, but when you have 25 people meeting in a pastor’s home, it’s difficult to have the full impact of a holistic child development program. So by partnering, we bring together our common goals and vision. Strategic partnerships help us fulfill our goals in places where we want to minister but couldn’t because there wasn’t a local church.
What are the communities like where these churches have been planted?
Most of the churches are in rural areas or on the outskirts of cities where there are shantytowns and neglected and forgotten people. In South America, more and more, these churches are starting in rural areas, where the incomes are rising in the cities but where there is still great need in the remote areas. For example, Fortaleza, Brazil, is very nice and developed. But you go 45 minutes from there, and you have a city with brick-making factories where children are in hard labour at age 12.
Sometimes these churches are serving marginalized people. At one church plant in Mexico, there is a valley where the people are mestizo (people of Spanish and indigenous descent), but on one nearby mountaintop, there is an indigenous group and village where there has been little development. In one community in Ecuador, the majority of people are Afro-Ecuadorian—descendants of African slaves. In another community in Ecuador, the leaders of the mother church didn’t even know that a neighbouring community existed—there was no road, but they often saw poor children coming over a hill. These are forgotten people and villages.
Often there’s no evangelical church in these communities. In one of the communities where a church was planted, there was only one church. A priest would come once a year, have a parade and take an offering, and then the church would be closed the rest of the year. We want to show these communities that the church cares.
What types of churches have we partnered with so far?
So far we’ve partnered with local churches who already implement Compassion’s holistic child development program and who have a heart to plant new churches. We have a relationship of trust with these churches and denominational partners. They have a proven ability to care for children and implement our programs with excellence.
What resources do the local churches contribute?
The local church buys their own property so they have some skin in the game and it’s not just us coming in and meeting all their needs. So far the giving is about 1 to 3. Our partners have raised $12 million USD, and the 150+ local churches have contributed and mobilized nearly $4 million in local resources!*
We’ve heard amazing stories of pastors selling their cars and church members selling their personal possessions to chip in. The local churches also contribute by providing labour to build the churches.
Who is leading the new churches?
Usually the mother church has been developing a leader to move into a new neighbourhood or sometimes a leader who is already there. It’s best when the new pastor and family live in that community so they are truly a part of it on a daily basis. In Brazil, one of the new pastors has been gathering with others in his home and is already helping 100-plus children. He is already part of this community and now through this partnership, his church will be able to further their ministry. There are other examples where people are like missionaries within their own country, moving to new communities and building relationships there.
What impact have you seen in the communities where these new churches are starting?
In several places, the local government has seen the impact on children’s lives to bring hope to their communities and they have helped to push things through. They have helped cut through red tape so the local churches can help children even faster and have even helped advocate to bring more infrastructure and utilities to these communities.
One of the new church plants is in Cucuta, Colombia, is just over a hill from the border with Venezuela. Daniel was a gang banger and a violent member in the community. But he gave his life to Christ, and he decided he needed to go back and make amends in the community where he made so much trouble. Now he leads the church plant near Cucuta, in a squatter village where there are many children in need. Through the church’s influence, the community decided to rename their squatter village “Principe de Paz” or “Prince of Peace.” The community has fully embraced the church plant. Compassion and our partners are never mentioned—they fully own the church. They know we are their partners, but they feel like, “This is our holistic child development program—this is how we reach out.” And that’s how we know we’ve done something right.
*Note: As of 2019
Written by: Amber Van Schooneveld ( 2015)
Edited & Updated: Compassion Editorial Team (2019)