Posted by: calloftheandes | March 28, 2018

Even Losses Gave Marian Houghton Victorious Missions Career

Upon departing her country of service, a missionary woman leaves behind a bit of herself—a bed of flowers, a brightly-painted kitchen, or most likely, the friends found in that distant land.

Marian Houghton left more. A longtime missionary to Ecuador, she left her own flesh and blood. Two of the Houghton children, Barbara and David, died on the mission field.

“We have two babies buried in Colta,” she later recounted, putting the loss in a positive light because it drew her closer to those she served. If Marian faced Job-like questions, she never yielded to such obstacles. Trust in God was not obscured; the path of obedience to Him, though arduous, was not obstructed.

In a career that culminated in a 1995 retirement in Silverdale, Washington, she and her husband, Stan, served God by serving the indigenous—first the Shuar and then the Quichua people. If there remained any vestiges of doubt about God’s dealings with her, these were erased on February 13, 2018. She died at age 90, outliving Stan by just 45 days. They were married for over 65 years.

Marian Houghton 1927 – 2018

Marian Grace Loewen was born to John D. and Anna Loewen on December 25, 1927 in Steinbach, Manitoba. The family lived in Steinbach and for a few years, in St. Anne. In her adolescent years, she referred to her group of Christian young people as “the gang”. Upon completing high school, she attended Steinbach Bible School, and then taught school for a year near Gypsumville, Manitoba.

Commissioned for mission work at age 22 by the Evangelical Mennonite Conference (EMC)-Steinbach, she arrived as a single missionary in Ecuador in 1950. Upon reaching the highlands province of Chimborazo, she witnessed women clad in layers of clothing to protect from the cold. She was thankful for not being stationed there, and said so in a prayer to God.
“I was heading for the jungle to do pioneer missionary work,” she later wrote. “Little did I realize that less than two years later I would be back in this cold area to spend many happy years.”

Her first assignment with Avant (then Gospel Missionary Union) placed her with another single woman, Dorothy Walker, at Macuma. At one point, the industrious and innovative women had built themselves a shower, based on missionary pilot Nate Saint’s instructions over the radio. According to the book, Jungle Pilot, they informed Saint of the shower’s malfunction. It was only then that Saint said they would need to ream out the fiber joints of a bamboo shaft that served as a drainpipe.

In the Ecuadorian rainforest, Marian became acquainted with the physical devastation and suffering of leishmaniasis, a tropical disease from a fly bite. It can eat away the cartilage of the nose and mouth. In addition to dispensing medicine to fight this malady, she also supervised food distribution at a mission boys’ school.

Stan and Marian Houghton

Marian and Stan married on May 18, 1952 in Shell, at the edge of the Ecuadorian rain forest. They moved to Caliata, a small mountain village, where they studied the Quichua language and tended to a small clinic. Their first child, Barbara Fay, lived just seven months.

A few years later while on home ministry assignment in North America, they learned that Saint was among five missionary men speared to death by the then unreached Waorani of Ecuador. Of the five, Marian wrote, “We knew all of them. How could we grasp that they were gone?”

Back in Ecuador, Stan’s construction skills took them to Pulucate, a mission outreach station to the highland Quichua. Single women had served there, followed by a family. As with decades of earlier evangelism among this people group, the work showed little progress and the family left. “Within a year after the foreigners moved out,” Marian recounted, “there were four churches in that valley, with more than 400 Christians.”

Even as the indigenous church was blossoming, the Houghton family was growing. Stan accepted another construction project, this time back in Shell, several hours away from the missionary school in Quito where they had sent their oldest, Jack.

The time came for Lois, their second child, to leave for school. Writing of a parent’s pain at sending a child to boarding school, Marian said, “Some other parents were going up on the bus as well, and we entrusted our little ones to their care. The Lord was really caring for them all the time, but sometimes it was hard to remember that.”

The Houghtons ministered in Chimborazo province both before and during a people movement to evangelical Christianity. Such religious change elicited opposition, even violence. “At about 3:00 one morning,” Marian said, “a whole group—with cuts and bruises—came to our side of the lake, saying they had been beaten up because they were planning a baptismal service [to be held] in the lake.”

In a memoir series published by The Messenger, Marian wrote of God helping her through the grief of losing a second child to respiratory problems in the cold of the high Andes.

Individuals were deciding to follow Jesus, along with families, communities and whole valleys of Quichua settlements turning toward evangelicalism. “I consider it the greatest experience of watching God’s Spirit at work in a people movement,” she said. It was also in the harsh, highlands environment that the Houghtons lost David, their second child to die.

“It was during this time that I had the most overwhelming sense of God’s love for me,” Marian wrote. “It enveloped me, eased the pain and helped me to go on living for Him.”

“From the time we had lost Barbie, I had always had some fear about entrusting our children completely to the Lord,” she continued. “Now I could do so with my whole heart and not be afraid. I am so thankful to have had this experience.”

The Quichua mothers had also suffered such losses. With the Houghtons’ loss, the emotional ties and opportunities for spiritual kinship only strengthened between them and the indigenous. They had come from afar, but death drew them near to people’s hearts. In addition, Marian’s focus sharpened on things eternal. “Now we had two little ones up in heaven,” she recalled decades later, “and it really makes heaven seem closer.”

Even as the Houghtons were in the vanguard of a spiritual revival in Ecuador, they decided to return to North America. Stan wanted to honor his parents by returning home to look after them in their latter years. In the workforce, he did steam fitting and later repaired copy machines.

When they returned to Ecuador in 1985, they were missionaries for a second time with Reach Beyond (then HCJB World Radio). They had been on loan to HCJB in the mid 1960s to give Stan experience in transmitter maintenance for his work of keeping two Quichua-language radio stations on the air. The skills he learned were put to good use as he rejoined the station’s engineering team. Marian helped with correspondence in the English Language Service.

Once they entered retirement, Marian loved to spend time with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. They were active in church. She enjoyed leading Bible studies at the church and in their home. Her hobbies included knitting, sewing, painting, reading and travel.

“Marian was very quick and intelligent,” wrote her daughters, Lois and Becky. “She spoke three languages fluently and could get by in two others.”

A memorial service was held for Marian at Grace Point Church in Bremerton, Washington. She is survived by Jeannie Houghton, widow of Jack; Laurence (Michele) Houghton; Lois (Bob) Rienstra; Becky (Mike) Leenstra, along with 14 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren. She was predeceased by her husband, Stan, a daughter, Barbara, a son, David, a son, John, and brothers Lloyd and Leander Loewen.

Marian and Stan Houghton


  1. […] he made his classroom a safe place to ask anything,” said Becky (Houghton) Leenstra. “I remember asking a very specific question about marital intercourse during biology […]

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