Connected to Ecuador through missions, media and the Gospel
BY MARITA MEINERTS, M.A.
More than 3,200 miles to the southeast of University of Northwestern’s St. Paul campus is the country of Ecuador, a “land of eternal springtime” spliced by the equator. This South American country, considered the Mitad del Mundo (“middle of the earth”) because of its relationship to 0° latitude, has a long and meaningful history with UNW.
Connected through Mission and Tragedy
Roger Youderian ’50 met his wife Barbara (Orton ’49) at Northwestern. Roger was the president of the Latin American “prayer band,” and both he and Barbara felt God’s tug to work in South America. Many of their classmates from Northwestern were already serving as missionaries in Ecuador, including Frank Drown ’44 and his wife Marie (Page ’44).
Drown sent a detailed letter to Roger regarding the great spiritual need among the Shuar (Jivaro) Indians living in the jungles of the Amazon. This tribe of headhunters represented a people lost in darkness, desperately using deadly violence and aggression as a way of life.
Armed only with their passion for the Gospel, the Youderians arrived in Ecuador in 1953 as missionaries with the Gospel Missionary Union (now Avant Ministries), which in 1896 was the first mission allowed into Ecuador. The Youderians studied the language and culture of the Indians of Ecuador as they lived among them in the jungle.
Roger was eventually asked to work a short-term project in a hospital in Shell Mera at the mouth of the Amazon jungle. There he met pilot Nate Saint and learned of “Operation Auca,” a plan to make contact with the feared Auca Indians (now known as the Waodani or Waorani tribe) in order to share the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. Roger and Nate went into intense preparations with fellow missionaries Ed McCully, Jim Elliot and Peter Fleming.
In early January 1956, the men landed on Palm Beach, the designated sand strip on the banks of the Curaray River, with the last of their supplies. On January 8, contact was lost between the Shell Mera home base and the men on Palm Beach. Drown led the dangerous and uncertain search and recovery team that discovered all five men had been martyred—killed by the end of a deadly Waodani spear.
Barbara, Roger’s widow, remembers, “At that time God directed me to Psalm 48:14: ‘For this God is our God forever and ever. He will be our guide even unto death.’ I had been prepared, and God became the strength of my heart and the sustaining factor in my own personal crisis.” Each widow returned to serve in the jungle, eventually seeing many Ecuadorian Indians come to Christ.
The report of these martyred missionaries became international news, including an article in Life magazine. The story has been recounted through books and films including End of the Spear and Through Gates of Splendor and has become a motivation for thousands to enter the mission field. Roger Youderian’s life of commitment and sacrifice is a reflection of God’s work in the lives of Northwestern graduates. The college’s core mission is to train women and men to engage with the world using the message of God’s power and redemption.
Connected through Communication and Bible Training
University of Northwestern has continued to weave the tapestry of connection between Minnesota and Ecuador over the course of the past decade. In 2001, UNW established a degree site in cooperation with HCJB Global in the capital city of Quito. The University of Northwestern Centro Cristiano de Comunicaciones (Christian Center for Communications, or CCC) offers an Associate in Applied Science and Bible degree with a specialization in electronic media communication, for Spanishspeaking students.
Launched in October 1984 as part of HCJB’s Center for Evangelism and Discipleship, the CCC’s mission has been to utilize mass communication (with concentrations in radio and TV production and journalism) as a means to train young people to be godly professionals in the broadcast arena and to serve the Lord by communicating a message of hope.
In the late 1990s, KTIS radio veteran and retired vice president for Northwestern Radio Paul Ramseyer ’55 realized that HCJB Global had a shared passion with Northwestern to reach people for Christ through the radio airwaves. He helped nurture the early seeds of a relationship that grew into the UNW/CCC partnership forged nearly 10 years ago.
Elsi Peñaranda, a career missionary with great passion and energy, has been in service with the HCJB mission for more than 33 years and has been the director of the CCC since 1985. “When we started to develop the program, we wanted something that was very practical,” states Peñaranda. “In those days, most universities didn’t have the proper equipment, and therefore media opportunities were scarce.”
In addition to providing a quality education, the CCC was interested in the spiritual development of its students. “We didn’t just want to train people, we wanted to form them,” says Peñaranda, noting that Bible classes are at the center of the curriculum.
The CCC’s three-year program equips students for effective ministry and work in electronic media and journalism by utilizing English-language study, communication strategies and techniques, and Bible training. Course completion at the CCC results in an associate degree, and students have the option of completing one more year of classes, either through Northwestern’s distance education program or on-campus in St. Paul, in order to earn a bachelor’s degree in communication.
Since 2001, 10 CCC students have spent a year in Minnesota to graduate from University of Northwestern. Two more students will be studying on campus this fall as the result of newly created scholarship opportunities. Plans are also under consideration to send UNW students from the St. Paul campus to Northwestern (the CCC) in Quito, allowing for cross-cultural experiences and Spanish language immersion.
“Our dream has always been to encourage Christian young people to use current tools and technology to share the Gospel wherever they go,” says Peñaranda. “As long as we do that, I’ll be happy.”
Connected through Science and Service
Communication is not the only field of study connecting Northwestern to Ecuador. UNW biology majors have enjoyed learning opportunities in Quito and surrounding areas through summer internships at Hospital Vozandes, a division of HCJB Global. Since 2007, five students have participated in these competitive internships and three more Northwestern students will participate this summer.
Under the direction of Bruce Simat, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, the students will be traveling to Quito for eight weeks of medical and cultural experiences. Their learning opportunities in Ecuador will be broad, including a cultural orientation, community service projects and active service “on the floor” and in various venues at Hospital Vozandes. The experience will be rounded out with a day of service in a local orphanage and the opportunity to travel in a medical caravan to serve the physical needs of rural Ecuadorians.
The strong legacy of discipleship, training, and the continued spiritual formation of students and alumni that exists between Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota and the beautiful country of Ecuador is enduring—all for the glory of God.