The news just days ago that a massive earthquake had left nearly 500 people dead and even more than that still missing caught my attention.
Catastrophes happen regularly all across the globe and most of us barely notice such news alerts. Some are manmade calamities — like wars — and others are more what we might refer to as “natural” disasters, whether events or tremors from below ground. Often, the victims are counted not in hundreds but in thousands – sometimes thousands and thousands and thousands.
I am interested in Ecuador because more than 30 years ago I visited the small nation as a journalist sent to develop news and feature coverage of missionary efforts and diverse Baptist ministries. My visit and contact with people there gives me a vested interest.
Ecuador is located in western South America, just south of Columbia and north and west of Peru. On Ecuador’s western side, it borders the Pacific Ocean.
Ecuador dates back to pre-Incan times, and its people represent various Indian tribal backgrounds. The Galapagos Islands are the nation’s most identifiable tourist site.
Among Baptists, more than a few missionaries have been spread across the nation through the years, especially in the three largest cities: the capital of Quito, the largest city Guayaquil and Cuenca.
Guayaquil was a memorable place to visit. Being a coastal city, it 30 years ago featured communities of homes on stilts high above the water. They were connected by high wooden “sidewalks” and looked more rickety than they felt when we walked out on the elevated boardwalk to visit homes scatted over the water, many of them connected for stability.
Residents accessed their dwellings either by boat — usually fishing vessels — or by traversing the boardwalks from dry land. The lifestyle was very different from anything with which I was familiar.
I heard a recent report that Guayaquil was among the communities affected by the earthquake, and I could only imagine how those stilted homes must have shook. I would guess that many of those supports gave way and that homes were lost and, perhaps, people were either injured or lost.
As I write, the death toll is indeed approaching 500, and more than a thousand people are still missing and unaccounted for. Loved ones are search and praying. Teams from various other nations have initiated rescue and recovery efforts. For many of these victims, time has run out or soon will if they are to be found alive.
Ecuador is not the only country experiencing calamity and death right now. Japan also has experienced earthquakes and others are experiencing flooding from massive storms.
It was easy for me to pray for Ecuador and its people as soon as I read of the earthquake there. That’s because I had met missionaries serving there as well as indigenous Baptist leaders, church members and others. The same could be said for members of mission teams that have ever served there or anywhere else where the day’s news suggests people are in danger.
I know of people some have called “prayer warriors” who because of age and/or infirmity are no longer as mobile as they once were. What they have discovered is that the television news picks up on catastrophes from across the land and from the far corners of the world. These prayer warriors keep track of such events and their victims and pray fervently for their safety and other needs, often as they are listening and watching such news accounts.
Most of these places they will never have visited, but they are moved to pray because of their faith and the concern for others that streams from it. This is a powerful way to live a life of active faith.
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.