Posted by: calloftheandes | February 25, 2015

Missionary Duo Spend Nearly 30 Years Touching Lives in Remote Andean Community

by Ruth Pike

Martha Craymer and Linda Arens

Martha Craymer and Linda Arens

Missionaries Martha Craymer and Linda Arens are like celebrities in the small Andean town of Chillanes—everybody knows who they are and everybody wants to talk to them. It’s not uncommon for the two women to go out on a five-minute errand and find themselves returning a couple of hours later because they’ve met someone on the way.

Martha, a community development nurse serving with Reach Beyond, and Linda, a teacher with Crossworld, have lived in Chillanes, Ecuador, for nearly 30 years. Martha arrived in the country in 1973, initially working at the mission’s Hospital Vozandes-Quito and in mobile medical clinics before moving to Guaranda where she taught village health promoters and later helped in the provincial health department.

During this time, she assisted with the government’s vaccination program that brought her to Chillanes, a town of 5,000 nestled in a verdant valley surrounded by a patchwork pattern of farmers’ fields. The region was behind other areas in “health, education, roads—everything but agriculture,” said Martha.

Stirred by the needs she saw, Martha moved to Chillanes in 1985 and began helping at the newly built hospital and teaching health classes in different areas based on priorities identified by the communities themselves.

The community of Chillanes ( circa 1986).

The community of Chillanes ( circa 1986).

Linda arrived in Ecuador in 1979 and began working at the Alliance Academy International, a Quito-based school at that time primarily for missionaries’ children. Seven years later she joined Martha in Chillanes, beginning a children’s ministry among Ecuadorians, working in some of the same communities where Martha was giving health classes.

In the 1980s the “only roads that were paved were the main street going up and the one coming down,” said Linda.

There was a small indigenous church formed by Quichua believers, but “the mestizos here in town would not come because it had Quichua leadership,” she recalled. Mestizos are Spanish-speaking people of mixed European/indigenous heritage. Even today, Martha said there are racial tensions between mestizos and Quichuas.

Focusing on Children, Women

Members of the Quichua church eventually had to move out to find work in Quito and the church closed, but Martha and Linda kept the meeting place for a children’s club. As young people went through the children’s club, the ministry began to expand.

“We started a youth group because some of the kids had accepted the Lord and were getting up to high school age,” explained Martha. “Later a girls’ club and ladies’ meetings were started.”

As healthcare also improved in the area, Martha saw her ministry gradually evolve “from mostly physical with the spiritual component to almost totally spiritual with a very little physical component.”

Although much of Martha’s work is now friendship evangelism and discipleship, she continues to provide support and offer training at the hospital in maternal and childcare, seeking to help reduce mortality rates among mothers and infants.

Walking Alongside the Locals

Martha and Linda have been with local people during some of their highest and lowest points in life. They have provided a listening ear to girls struggling with stress, family issues and even suicide. They’ve given people rides to the hospital. They’ve sat up all night with single girls who were giving birth.

“Anytime they have a problem they come; they want help; they want advice,” shared Martha. “Anytime there’s a joy in their lives, they come and share it with us. It’s just a good relationship. We are always here for them.”

“And we have shown them unconditional love,” added Linda. “Maybe they didn’t do what they knew we would have preferred, but we didn’t reject them either.”

girls group1_2014

Living among Ecuadorians in Chillanes, Martha and Linda have seen God working in the lives of generations of people.

One day, a teenage boy named Duval was brought to them by his sister. “This boy needs help,” she related. “Can you help him?”

Duval attended Bible studies with them, joined their youth group and went along to a youth camp where he eventually gave his life to Christ. His was a rocky journey of faith, including a time spent in prison on charges of which he was later cleared.

However, the Lord spoke to him during his time in jail. Several years later, after he had moved to Quito, Martha and Linda received a telephone call from another missionary saying that Duval was getting baptized. They showed up as a surprise at his church in Quito. “He was overwhelmed,” said Martha.

Meanwhile, Duval’s niece Jenny had been attending children’s clubs in Chillanes and professed faith in Christ. However, she didn’t have an easy life either. At the age of 15, she moved in with an unbeliever and got pregnant. For a while, Martha and Linda heard nothing from her. Then one day, out of the blue, she turned up on their doorstep again.

“She said that she wanted to start studying the Bible again,” said Linda.

Jenny’s partner, José, would not join them for studies, but he always left the door open in the adjacent room to listen. Martha and Linda noticed him begin to soften, particularly when they were able to get a breathing machine for the couple’s daughter, Karen, who was suffering from severe asthma.

Eventually, partly through the witness of Jenny’s cousin, a believer from a church in another town came to visit, and José gave his life to Christ. “He came to the house,” recalled Martha. “And he said, ‘I want you to know that I’m now part of you.’”

Both Jenny and José have had their struggles, but today they’re meeting every week to do a discipleship course with Martha and Linda.

“They chose Friday night,” said Linda, “because that’s the night their friends would call and go out drinking.”

Their oldest daughter, Mirka, is also part of Martha and Linda’s weekly girls’ group, and their youngest daughter, Karen, attends the children’s club. The family looks forward to the day when they can attend church services in Chillanes.

Dreaming of a Church in Chillanes

Duval, now a deacon at his church in Quito, has been trying to plant a church in Chillanes, but he has faced many obstacles. He had hoped to move to the community, but he was unable to find a job to support his family. Although he has visited Chillanes a few times with a group from his church in Quito, work and other commitments make it difficult for him to travel to the town regularly.

“It’s all got to be in God’s time,” said Linda.

“If we had our way, there would have been a church probably about 20 years ago, but that’s not the way God works,” added Martha.

“Pray for a couple—a national couple—who would be able to come and be part of the work here.”

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Responses

  1. […] in nursing and community development, Craymer ministers with Linda Arens, a Crossworld missionary. Together they work to empower teenagers—primarily girls—to develop […]

  2. […] Arens, a teacher with Crossworld. They work together to empower teenagers—primarily girls—to develop skills and attitudes to advance themselves and to live a holy life. “We also have ladies’ meetings and individual Bible studies,” she […]


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