Posted by: calloftheandes | July 1, 2015

Canadian Nurse’s Medical Ministry Began with Assignment that Almost Wasn’t

A missionary’s faith can be tested by the page of their passport stamped “visa.” So it was for Eleanor Boyes in the summer of 1959 during protracted Spanish-language studies as she awaited the prized authorization to nurse in Ecuador.

Eleanor Boyes

Eleanor Boyes

She was intent on serving in medical missions at Rimmer Memorial Hospital in Quito (later renamed Hospital Vozandes-Quito or HVQ). Four others from Canada and the U.S. were in the same situation: Martha Brunner, Ruth Burbank, Jean Capes and Beth Huddleston.

Born to Henry and Mary Boyes in Meaford, Ontario, on Jan. 16, 1922, Eleanor Louise Boyes, desired from an early age to serve in missions. Growing up on a farm, she graduated from Meaford High School in 1941. She went on to complete a three-year diploma from the Whitby Ontario School of Nursing followed by 13 years of work as a nurse at Toronto Western Hospital. She also took a special one-year course at Toronto Bible College.

Boyes first heard about the Quito hospital after reading a newspaper article about the killing of five missionaries in Ecuador in January 1956, and she was determined to use her nursing skills for Christ. Through the influence of fellow nurse and longtime friend Beth Huddleston, she decided to apply to Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB Global) in 1957.

Her invitation to Ecuador by a fellow Canadian, Dr. Paul Roberts, in Quito seemed to be countered, however, by the “courtesy visas” granted to her and the others by Ecuador’s government. It gave them just 90 days in the country and strictly put it that “this visa does not authorize its holder to practice whatsoever her profession.”

“We were worried,” Boyes later chronicled about biding their time, waiting for visas. “Our future seemed uncertain … but our enthusiasm to get to Ecuador was evident.”

Illness opened the door for longtime service in Ecuador soon after the five nurses arrived in Quito on Aug. 5, 1959. “We came in on a Wednesday, and on the next Sunday morning then-Ecuadorian President Galo Plaza went to Dr. Paul Roberts and asked for the North American nurses to care for his mother who had just had a stroke,” recounted Boyes in an interview several years ago.

Roberts, who had founded HVQ a few years earlier, went to examine her and then admitted her to the hospital. With advanced nursing education still developing in Ecuador, the president wanted his mother to receive the best possible nursing care. eleanorboyes

“Dr. Roberts explained to Mr. Plaza that the hospital would have these nurses, except that they lacked the government’s authorization,” related Boyes. “The eminent leader replied, ‘You see to my mother, and I’ll see to the licenses for the nurses.’” Soon they were in Ecuador providing around-the-clock care to Señora Plaza.

“She died the following Sunday,” continued Boyes, quickly noting that a few weeks later, “Mr. Plaza returned the passports stamped with immigrant visas, ‘Valid indefinitely.’”

The visa would see the Canadian nurse through 27 years of missionary service to Ecuadorians, first in Quito and later in the jungle at Hospital Vozandes-Shell (known in Ecuador as Hospital Vozandes del Oriente or HVO).

Her 1995 book, Bridge to the Rain Forest: Medical Missions at the Jungle’s Edge, detailed the work, ministry and lives of co-workers and patients at HVO, originally known as Epp Memorial Hospital.

Many of the patients whose healthcare needs were met at the Shell hospital had far fewer means to pay bills than did President Plaza in 1959. One story from the 28-bed facility illustrated this, as Boyes remembered a patient named Rosa.

“When I introduced myself, an appreciative look registered in her dark brown eyes,” wrote Boyes. “Her round face lit up with a smile, revealing one gold-capped tooth and several gold inlays, typical of Ecuador’s dentistry.”

Rosa’s smile and its gold embellishments belied her squalid living situation deep within the jungle from where Boyes transported her along with Huddleston and HVO’s administrator, Dave Findlay.his6039r

Recently widowed, Rosa and her two children had moved into the already overcrowded home of her sister, Maruja. Near an outdoor fire pit stood the family’s one luxury—a shortwave radio that Maruja, her husband and their nine children used to hear broadcasts from Radio Station HCJB.

“We sat in the only space available, on the edge of their beds,” recounted Boyes. “With the adults and children gathered round us, Dave read from his Bible, explaining the Scriptures so that even a child could understand. When it was time to leave, Maruja handed us a live chicken in gratitude for bringing her and Rosa home.”

Boyes served as a nurse at the Quito hospital for 12 years together with Huddleston. Both were transferred to Shell in 1971 where they ministered for another 15 years. Boyes’ nursing career offered opportunities to wear various hats, including director of nursing at both hospitals and administrator of HVO.

After completing their missionary service in Ecuador in 1986, Boyes and Huddleston retired together in Meaford where they became involved in the community and Knox Presbyterian Church. They also continued to help represent the mission in Canada, holding meetings and taking part in conferences nationwide.

“I have always found nursing a very rewarding profession,” said Boyes. “It continued to be even more so while serving in Ecuador. I think this was because I found the people so interesting—how they lived, where they came from and how we could help them with their medical, social and spiritual needs.”

Several weeks before her death, Boyes was hospitalized as she struggled with labored breathing and a weak heart. She died at the Meaford Hospital on Sunday, June 7, at the age of 93.

Boyes is survived by her dear friend, Beth Huddleston, as well as by a brother, Merle, and his wife, Sharon, of British Columbia. She was predeceased by two brothers, Gerald and Allan. She is remembered by her sisters-in-law, Bea Boyes of Cambridge, Ontario, and Helen (Vernon) Vickers of Meaford.

A funeral service was held at Knox Presbyterian Church in Meaford on Wednesday, June 10. Memorial gifts may be made to Reach Beyond-Canada through Ferguson Funeral Homes in Meaford or to Reach Beyond in Colorado Springs, Colo.bridge to the rain forest


  1. […] Cheer” program broadcast in Philadelphia. Others also gave, and the hospital officially opened as Rimmer Memorial Hospital on Oct. 12, 1955. It is now commonly referred to as Hospital Vozandes-Quito. “Vozandes” is […]

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