Ecuador - Cellphone Use and Ministry in Quito

Nathan Schulte (Quito, Ecuador)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Nathan Schulte graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2017 and received a call to be part of the Latin American mission team. He spent his first 10 months in Mexico and now is working in Quito, Ecuador, to help start the new WELS ministry in the country.
At about 6:30 a.m. on May 2nd I arrived in Ecuador and by 3:00 p.m. I was set up with a new Ecuadorian cellphone number and cellphone plan. To say the least, my cellphone is my number one tool for outreach and connections with people here in Quito. Consider my past week:

  • I am finishing up an Old Testament course on Abraham and Moses with a small class of three people — Marco, Lizbeth, and her mother Emma. Marco and Lizbeth regularly use their cellphones to look up the Bible passages.

  • I Ubered up to a funeral home on the north side of Quito to attend the wake of Emma's father.

  • Last night, one of my students, Maggy, messaged me on Whatsapp asking me what she should do when her pastor continues to preach and teach things that are not biblical. We had a productive conversation.

  • My colleague Phil Strackbein, and MLC graduate Jason Zweifel (who is interning in Quito and helping the mission on the side), and I have a Whatsapp group in which we pass information along and share plans and questions.

  • Both Phil and I tried something new this week and went live on Facebook just for a minute or so to say what we are teaching and to invite people to our October classes. This is part of our strategy to become a known entity in Quito. More on that a little later.

  • Jason started working on posting on our Facebook page (goal of 3 posts per day) and communicating with the people who contact us via Facebook Messenger.

  • I worked with Cindy, coordinator of our Facebook presence in all Latin America, to set up advertising for our on-the-ground classes here in Quito and also to blanket all of Ecuador with ads for our online classes.

  • In addition, we offer daily Whatsapp devotions through, and I have used them as evangelism hooks for people. There are a few food vendors who are now receiving the devotions! Sometimes it's easier to invite someone to get short devotions than to get them to commit to a whole class.

Lots of cellphone use! And I didn't even mention my out-of-Ecuador ministry efforts with my online classes and contacts — that could be another topic.

Basic Overview of our Latin America Mission Strategy and its Application in Ecuador

Below is a diagram of our Process document which outlines our strategy in Latin America. The best way to conceptualize the work is to imagine an hourglass.

Through our promotions and presence in social media we reach a large number of people. For example, currently we have 1.12 million likes on our main Facebook page. Our team is developing a network of team members and volunteers who create content and interact with people specifically on Facebook and also other platforms, such as Instagram, as we slowly branch out. We have noticed a lag in our ability to reach the 20s age group so we are slowly getting into platforms, such as Instagram, so as not to leave out anyone out. The goal is to become a known entity so that we can reach more people with our online class signups.

The promotion step leads us to the narrowing part of the hourglass where people sign up from all over the Spanish speaking world — I just had a Venezuelan who is living in Ecuatorial Guinea, Africa, in my last session! — to take online classes. The focus of the classes is two-fold: we want to teach people to read their Bibles and to train them how to teach and lead others.

Through the classes, we identify potential leaders who may be candidates for starting their own groups and congregations. We further teach and counsel them always emphasizing the "chain of leaders" as we see examples in places like the book of Acts. Barnabas worked with Paul who worked with Timothy who worked with lots more people — 2 Timothy 2:2 has been a big inspiration for our current ministry model. As those leaders work with more people, the hourglass expands as it leads to its base. We pray for this multiplication movement to grow!

Our Ecuador-specific strategy follows this model with the added twist of also offering on-the-ground classes in an institute where we are renting a classroom. After consulting with a Facebook representative, we decided to form a Quito Academia Cristo Facebook page on which we can post specific Quito related items, events, promotions, etc. Right now, the majority of our general posts on the Academia Cristo – Quito page are copied and pasted from the main Academia Cristo page. Copied, not shared, because shared posts do not have as much reach as "original" ones do. We currently have 7,242 likes on our page (as of 9/22/2018). A huge majority of our signups and contacts come through the Facebook page, although we do make contact with people face-to-face and through our sign.

We are currently developing the Facebook page to reach more people with more varied content. This quarter we have goals to run "likes" campaigns to boost how many people are following us in Quito, promote all of our on-the-ground "entry" classes, regularly "go live" to promote classes, and post three times a day a spiritual message/picture. We have three "on ramps" to the program: our initial flagship course "Heme Aquí" (story oriented). our "Sanidad Espiritual" (Spiritual Healing) class (a more doctrinal-oriented initial class), and "Mi Hijo Mi Salvador" (My Son My Savior) which we will offer in December. All these goals concentrate on the top part of the hourglass. (We just started this effort here in Ecuador so we don't have many people very far in the program.)

My Cellphone Observations in Quito

Unsurprising to the attentive people watcher, mobile device use has skyrocketed in the world. Latin America is no different. From anecdotal observations of smartphones in far removed villages in Haiti to the plethora of articles on the subject [some of them are here and here], mobile devices are definitely the tool to use to reach people. Our own promotions in Quito reflect the same reality. For example in a class promotion we ran in August for a class, we reached 149,856 with a Facebook advertisement. 137,312 of those connected using a mobile device.

Despite the clear importance of promoting with mobile devices in mind, Latin America does present its unique challenges on that field. From my observations, people are strong defenders of their data. Most people add a few dollars to their cellphone account (almost all the little tiendas sell minutes and data), go for a few days and head to another shop to add a few more dollars. So, people do not seem to be mindlessly browsing the internet or Facebook very much during the day. You will see a few people using their phones on the buses, but most do not take their phones out for fear of having them stolen out of their hands. Also, although lines at banks are notoriously long, cellphone use in line is not permitted. Most people wait until they have wifi at home to use the internet. I learned this the hard way by sending out the homework for my classes (short YouTube videos) too late. The students need to wait for wifi or they will suck up their precious data. Perhaps this reality is reflected in the graph below which shows at what times people sign up for the classes — most in the morning or evening with a little bump at lunch time.

Mission Journeys Connection

When two Mission Journeys trips (short term mission trips through WELS) were being planned to come to Quito last May and June, we tackled the challenge of how to do worthwhile ministry when many in our group did not speak much Spanish. I had taken an online class the year before called Mobiles in Missions through Mission Media U and they suggested using cellphones as tool for bridging the language gap. We decided to try it.

We developed a short video (1 minute) and used it as one of the options the groups could use when meeting people on the streets. For one couple, Dan and Joyce (pictured below), the video was invaluable. We gave them a simple script in Spanish, "Hi, would you like to see a video ...," and they took off sharing it with probably a hundred people or more. The other group, which had more Spanish ability, preferred simply to talk to people on the streets. If we were going to do the street evangelism again with the cellphones, I would probably get extra speakers to connect to the phones so that the audio is better.

In general, the videos are like old fashioned flyers. On the street, they do get the word out, but don't draw huge percentages of people relative to people contacted. However, a number of people in the group shared the videos with their host families — they stayed with Ecuadorian families through a local language school — and found it to be a good tool. I often use this strategy when visiting people in their homes and they are looking for resources. I pull out my cellphone and show them where the resources are on our websites. The videos become more useful as a relationship develops. Perhaps that's one of the reasons food vendors are evangelized more than random people on the street. I visit them often!

Photo by Peg Thiele of WELS Multi-Language Publications

Thank you for reading this article! I hope it gives you a snapshot into how we are using cellphones for ministry in Ecuador. I hope it also spurs you on to think of creative ways to reach and teach more people in your own ministries or in ours. Please send ideas our way!

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Per Helmersen (posted by Judy Kuster) (Nepal) 2018-10-23 4:08:56pm
Excellent initiative! I think your efforts illustrate not only the impact and potential of this medium, but also highlight the importance of understanding cellphone usage patterns within a given cultural setting. This includes not only the financial side of acquisition and use of mobile technologies and security issues (as your experiences illustrate) but also cultural restrictions related to ownership and use. In many cultures women, my main research focus, are not permitted to own or even use mobile handsets - certainly not in public. Literacy and numeracy issues will also need to be taken into consideration if your target audience is toward the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid. I think my message (based on 20 years of research in Asia, Oceania and Africa) is: successful initiatives build on culturally situated in-depth knowledge of your user community.
Nathan Schulte 2018-10-24 7:03:56am
Yes! The intricacies have been endlessly fascinating to me. I pray that the Lord make us good observers so that we can reach more without the hindrance of badly used assumptions.
Per Helmersen (Tamagi Centre) 2018-10-23 11:39:48pm
This is just a test posting from Nepal. iPad + Chrome browser. Firefox unsuccessful yesterday. Crossing my fingers...
Per Helmersen (Tamagi Centre) 2018-10-23 11:42:39pm
Great! As I now head into the Annapurna Range I will try to log in occasionally if I have coverage. Look forward to discussions in an area that excites and intrigues me - professionally and personally.
Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2018-10-24 10:47:52am
Using a smartphone to SHOW people short Christian messages (audio or video) is a great strategy. If somebody shows interest, the next step is to ask them, "Would you like that on YOUR phone?" Then transfer the file (wirelessly, directly phone-to-phone, without the internet or even a phone call) from your phone to theirs using BlueTooth. Then they can take it home, show it to family, people at work - the potential for viral spread of digital files is always there due to the widespread presence of Android phones throughout the world - Android phones are "mission phones" because they make this possible. We described the phone-to-phone transfer process in our fall 2016 GOWM conference, in the presentations "Spreading the Gospel Phone to Phone" and the accompanying tutorial "Instructional Video - Phone to Phone Transfers." Click on the Spring 2016 link at the top of the front page of this conference.
Halie Flores (Martin Luther College) 2018-10-25 12:39:34pm
Dear Mr. Schulter,
Reading about your experiences in Ecuador and the variety of people you meet and preach to through your unique outreach programs was inspiring. I especially liked how you incorporated the couple at the end who did not speak much Spanish, but through a short video provided by you on their cellphone, they were able to speak to hundreds. One idea that I really took to heart from your article was your comparison to creating the “chains of leaders” today to the chains of leaders created in the New Testament: “Barnabas worked with Paul who worked with Timothy who worked with lots more people — 2 Timothy 2:2 has been a big inspiration for our current ministry model.” I most certainly pray that these leaders you are creating continue to mutliply.
Also, I liked your tidbit at the end of how you noticed “food vendors are evangelized more than random people on the street.” I find that a very interesting correlation between technology used in your outreach. What would you say has been your most successful strategy of bringing people to your face-to-face bible studies and catechism classes?
Once again, thank you for sharing your story and contributing to the conference.
Nathan Schulte 2018-10-26 9:13:15am
Thank you, Halie, for your comments and your prayers!

The most successful strategy so far for getting people to come to the classes has been our online presence and promotions on Facebook. However, not all of them are purely online contacts! Phil Strackbein, my colleague, was at the dentist office last week and while the novocaine was setting in, he and his doctor got into a spiritual conversation. They've started classes this week!

I think the key is to work all the opportunities God gives us.
Simeon Glende (Martin Luther College ) 2018-10-25 12:55:56pm
Pastor Schulte,

I had no idea that cell phones could be used as an effective way of sharing your faith in Ecuador and in Latin American Cultures. This is mainly because I didn’t know that cell phones were used so much in that culture. However, you realized this fact and because of it you said, “mobile devices are definitely the tool to use to reach people.” It is amazing how you found out what the best way to communicate with these people was and then used it to share God’s Word with them. After reading your article, I was wondering if you think this method of outreach could be useful in other cultures with a lot of cell phone usage. You stated in your article, “Unsurprising to the attentive people watcher, mobile device use has skyrocketed in the world.” Do you think we should be using technology more in other world missions and maybe even here in the United States? If so do you think we should use what we’ve done in Ecuador as our model? Thank you for all your work in Ecuador and for sharing your experience!
Nathan Schulte 2018-10-26 9:18:18am
Thanks, Simeon, for your thoughts!

Yes! Definitely. In fact, the WELS missions is currently developing an Academia Cristo-like program for other languages, including English! It's called TELL. I'm not part of its creation, but I know they have been using a lot of our experience in Academia Cristo to plan their own steps.
Simeon Glende (Martin Luther College ) 2018-10-29 9:02:34pm
That sounds like a good idea and hope it works well. Thanks for answering my question and God Bless your ministry.
Andrew Grady (Martin Luther College) 2018-10-25 1:14:09pm
Mr. Sculte,

It is truly amazing the work being accomplished through your ministry. I appreciate that you allow students to contact you directly. It seems that you've established a stronger relationship when you engaged with them in discussion outside of the classroom and became part of their lives. I feel like this can compare to the early apostles making connections with the people they witnessed to while they were traveling from city to city in terms of building relationships with the people they served.

I was wondering if you exclusively use social media to advertise your classes or if you went out and engaged people on the street regularly aside from when you host mission trips. I think its safe to say that not everyone has or wants access to social media as you said the people don't necessarily use the internet to browse and the try not to use much data. Others might prefer conversation in person rather than sending messages back and forth so how would you effectively include them in your ministry.

Thank you for your work. May God bless your continued ministry.
Nathan Schulte 2018-10-26 9:30:50am
Andrew, thanks for your thoughts!

Yes, I definitely don't want to be a hermit on the internet making contacts with people! We don't necessarily have a strategy of going door-to-door or handing out ads on the street corners, but we do interact a lot with people in our daily living (see my comment to Halie above).

We have noticed that a lot of different schools and institutes post promotions on telephone poles and other bulletin-board like spaces. We're going to try adding that strategy in a section of town called La Floresta next month. We are also exploring putting an ad in some newspapers.

Not everyone is on Facebook, but I would venture to guess that everyone knows someone who is on Facebook. This afternoon I'm meeting up with a guy whom one of my online students connected me with. He didn't find us on Facebook. Word of mouth is good too! : )

Whenever possible we try to connect with our online student face-to-face as soon as possible. I started an online class on Monday (consisting of students from Ecuador, the DR, and Bolivia). Later this morning I'm going to meet up with one of the students who lives here in Quito.

Hope this answers a few of your questions!
Matthew Rugen (Martin Luther College) 2018-10-25 3:48:40pm
Pastor Schulte,

It was interesting to hear your personal experiences and description of life in Ecuador. It gives insight on what WELS missions are accomplishing in South America. A characteristic of today’s world is that everyone has technology and you use this as an advantage in spreading God’s Word. You can reach people through social media just like you mentioned: “currently we have 1.12 million likes on our main Facebook page.” Through this you can give others the unchanging truth of God’s Word and that is very cool.

You mentioned that you have reached many people with your online classes: “The promotion step leads us to the narrowing part of the hourglass where people sign up from all over the Spanish speaking world — I just had a Venezuelan who is living in Equatorial Guinea, Africa, in my last session! — to take online classes.” I was just curious, how far do you envision your online services being spread across the world? Do you think what you are doing in South America right now through your online classes could be spread to other nations?

Thank you for your contribution!
Nathan Schulte 2018-10-26 9:37:38am
Great question Matthew!

We often say, "We exist (as Academia Cristo) to teach and to train Spanish speakers anywhere they live." With our online presence, we are able to approximate that vision. Obviously we're not going to bop over to Equatorial Guinea every month, but the Venezuelan lady certainly can continue to take online classes with us!

I mentioned in a previous comment that WELS missions is using Academia Cristo as a model for developing a program for other languages so that a similar model of ministry can reach all the way around the world. It's called TELL. I pray that the Holy Spirit use it greatly!
Samantha Humphreys (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2018-10-31 6:18:39pm
I love how you let people contact you directly. I think this lets people know you are more personal than just thing to get this project out there. I believe this also shows that you care more so for your followers than just this project alone which isn’t always a bad thing.

I loved how you figured out how a certain culture uses cellphones and how you can integrate Gods word into their lives. You start by doing something small and then building onto that. I believe this will be beneficial to this culture and could also benefit other cultures across the globe.
Nathan Schulte 2018-11-01 12:59:25pm
Thank you for your comments! It all starts with the person God places in front of you.
Maya Budin (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2018-11-11 4:16:14pm
Pastor Schulte,

This is such a neat mission! Many people have access to cell phones. This being said, it is very wise of you to target your audience through the use of these handheld devices! I think it's very interesting that you are engaging people who are even outside of Latin America! The use of the short video to overcome the language barrier is ingenious. Cross-culturally, our eyes are drawn to these small screens and quickly become captivated.

You identified a few of the struggles that have presented themselves, as many of the individuals you are working with are sparing of their data usage. How do you overcome and avoid these issues? What can we be doing in the states to contribute to the success of this mission?

Thank you for sharing and may God continue to bless your efforts!
kira fulbright (bethany lutheran college) 2018-11-11 11:39:52pm
i thought this section was very interesting with great points