Reaching the ‘Invisible’

By Kristen Burke   •   January 2, 2009

The Hickeys have become engrossed in the lives of the children watching the presentation. Isla Trinitaria is one of the poorest communities in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. Drug and alcohol abuse is epidemic. Many adults are beggars. They can’t afford the uniforms and supplies necessary to send their children to the public school, so the children spend their days begging on the streets, too. These children are at the lowest level of society. Many of their births were never registered, so they are invisible to the government.

When the Hickeys first visited Isla Trinitaria, the church was a crumbling structure with bamboo walls and a dirt floor. There was no door or roof, and there wasn’t much inside.

“The church had no crayons,” Mona says. “No coloring books, no pictures.”

With the support of the Hickeys’ family, friends and their church back home in Charlotte, N.C., the little church in Isla Trinitaria now has cinder block walls, a tin roof, a door and a soup kitchen where children receive at least one good meal three times a week. And on most Sundays the Hickeys serve at the church, leading the children in singing and games and helping tell Bible stories.

The Hickeys’ journey to Ecuador began with their 25th wedding anniversary. They had led mission trips to Honduras and to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and their eyes had been opened to the world’s urgent spiritual and physical needs. Suddenly, God began to place Guayaquil on their hearts, so they decided to fly to the city for their anniversary celebration.

They had no idea why God would lead them to Guayaquil. The city didn’t seem needy. From a downtown street corner, Curtis and Mona could see the beautifully restored government buildings, modern skyscrapers and a tourist-friendly riverfront, complete with IMAX theatre, restaurants and parks.

But that scenery changed just outside the center city. Sensing that God was moving them from short-term missions toward something more permanent, Curtis and Mona had made calls before leaving North Carolina to see if someone in Guayaquil could show them around the city. Jessica Alzamora from Centro Evangelistica Church had agreed to meet with them. The church has committed itself to bringing the Gospel to all of Ecuador–from the most remote jungle villages to the biggest cities–and Jessica offered to take the Hickeys into some of the impoverished communities the church was trying to reach in Guayaquil.

Leaving the downtown, they turned off the modern highway onto a winding, rutted dirt road that led to Isla Trinitaria, an island where residents too poor to buy land had built bamboo shacks on stilts over the Guayas River, a coastal inlet. A wire spliced into the main power lines was strung from shack to shack to supply electricity.

The Hickeys wondered, Could God be calling us to serve in this community?

“I’ve been in some poor areas,” Curtis says, “but to see places where there had been three houses, and the one in the middle had fallen apart … Every couple of weeks the water truck comes because they can’t drink the polluted river water without getting sick. People spend as much as 20 percent of their income just on drinking water.”

People in Isla Trinitaria don’t trust outsiders, but Jessica told the Hickeys about one family, the Galans, from Centro Evangelistica, who had been successful in hosting a Sunday school in the community. The family had faced threats, abuse and even the burning of their building. But they had persevered, all the while praying that through their love for the children, God would help them to reach the adults as well. It seemed that God was answering that prayer. Community leaders had recently extended an invitation to the family to build a permanent church building.

Jessica drove Curtis and Mona to the crumbling structure. Looking around, they could see that it wouldn’t take much for the church to have a bigger impact. With the help of the Hickeys’ friends in the United States, this crumbling shack could become a real church building. Maybe the church could start a soup kitchen and, eventually, a school to help meet the educational needs of the children. This would give the church a platform to offer hope for all eternity.

Feeling sure now that God was calling them to Guayaquil, Curtis and Mona returned to North Carolina and started working on their vision. Eventually, Curtis resigned his associate pastor position, and Mona closed her hairstyling salon. They sold their house and, through the support of churches, family and friends, they founded Bread of Life Ministries International. Not long after, the Hickeys and their two children moved to Guayaquil to begin working with Centro Evangelistico to reach the people of Ecuador with the Gospel.

The Hickeys continue to help the Galan family with Sunday school and the soup kitchen. Several women in the community have become Christians and now serve alongside the two families. The Hickeys, in addition to their work in Isla Trinitaria, have begun offering Centro Evangelistica’s church plants across the country training and assistance with projects such as soup kitchens.

When the Hickeys first announced their plans to move to Ecuador, some people back home said, “You’re giving up so much!”

Curtis and Mona insist that they didn’t give up anything.

“We let go of some things,” Curtis says, “some of ‘those weights that so easily beset us’ (Cf. Hebrews 12:1). If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be doing this, I would have said you were crazy. But now it seems like the most natural thing in the world. I do not want to get to the end of my life and look back and say, ‘God, why did I waste so much time pursuing things that didn’t matter?'”

Not everyone can go on a mission trip, but the Hickeys say that all can pray. All people can give of themselves.
“[Jesus] said, ‘If anyone would come after me, He must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,'” Curtis says, quoting Mark 8:34-35. “‘For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it’ (NIV).

“That’s the biblical perspective on life,” Curtis says. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What more can I do for the Kingdom of God?'”

For more on the Hickeys’ ministry, see breadoflifeintl.org.

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