With open eyes, open ears and an open heart, Dr. Yeny Agila de Pinos started a Luke Society ministry in Quininde, Ecuador. She recognized immediately the breakdown of family occurring within the town, she knew the health in rural villages was declining rapidly, and she knew that God brought her to this place to make an impact. Being born and raised in Ecuador, Dr. Yeny understood the "machismo" culture, but decided to go directly against the flow: she would empower women.
Dr. Yeny knew the most important thing she would teach the women was about the saving love of Jesus Christ, so she started Bible studies. The excitement for these groups grew rapidly, as many women never had a reason to get together. They soon found comfort in these groups where they could talk openly about their religion, their struggles, and their lives. "I found out very quickly that it is important to foster feelings of solidarity within the community and encourage them to help each other," Dr. Yeny says.
When a new Bible study group found out about a local widow whose son died suddenly, they quickly invited her into the group. She came into the group having lost her will to live and very depressed. "But being with this group has given me the strength to continue to live," she testifies. "I have a lot left to learn, and I'm so thankful for this group of women."
As the group continued to meet and Dr. Yeny began to know the women better, she recognized a real strength within these women. These women had ideas, goals and intelligence. Dr. Yeny was optimistic of what these women could do if they were given a challenge.
She started a community bank, in which each woman would receive a $50 loan after presenting an idea for a development project. Once the project was underway and making money, the woman had to repay the loan to the group and was then eligible for a $100 loan. Soon these women found opportunities within their grasp. They had resources, they had a challenge and they had a new way to support their family. Many bought chickens to sell eggs. Some started small stores in their homes. One woman started a shoe store. Their previous role in the family was to care for the children and the home. They have now added the role in helping provide for the family.
In the unfortunate situation where the development project fails and the money is lost, it is the responsibility of the other women to help pay back the loan. In this way, the women have a personal interest in the projects of every other woman in the group.
After seeing the success of this local women's group, Rosaura, one of Dr. Yeny's community health promoters, encouraged Dr. Yeny to establish the same type of group in the rural village of Pambichal. Dr. Yeny discouraged the idea because she was very busy and the community was far away. When Rosaura persisted, Dr. Yeny agreed, but only if Rosaura would coordinate everything. After a visit to the village, Rosaura found the women excited about a Bible study and capable of taking on the community bank idea. "It became very obvious that it was God's plan that we work in Pambichal," said Dr. Yeny.
The women of Pambichal soon found the same sense of empowerment in their regular Bible studies. They found strength in their solidarity and in being in control of their investments. More than 40 women in the community are involved, and many more are interested after seeing such success.
During one of their meetings, a man from the community was listening to what the women were planning. He stood and addressed Dr. Yeny. "I can see that this community has been united because of this group of women," he says. "I know that we have been underdeveloped because of our lack of unity. It's wonderful that we're coming together, but I admit that I'm jealous that I cannot be involved. I am the head of the family, you know."
The room was silent as Dr. Yeny considered his comments. She acknowledged his role as head of the family, but challenged his real interests in being involved in the community bank. She asked if he was helping with his wife's project, or just watching as she labored. She asked if he was given the money for a project, would he use all the money on the project, or skim some off the top for gambling and alcohol. Surprisingly to all the women at the meeting, the man accepted Dr. Yeny's challenges as true. Then Dr. Yeny shared encouraging news that she is working with an organization in Quininde that helps men start farming projects, and hopefully the organization will come to Pambichel soon. The men are indeed excited by this venture.
"We are strengthening the family by working through these women," says Dr. Yeny. "We are reinforcing the God-given role of the woman. But with little education, these women feel like they cannot do much. Now they want to make a statement to the entire community regarding the value of women."
Having $50 in their hands to invest as they wish is a dream that many women thought would never come true. "The community banks are setting these women up for success," says Dr. Yeny, "even if they don't turn a big profit."
As solidarity has grown among the women, it has also grown among the families and the entire community. The community has come together to put pressure on the local authorities to address the needs of the community. They want to see a better road to their village to have more access to the markets.
As Dr. Yeny's relationship with the women in Quininde developed, she repeatedly heard concerns about the quality of education for the children. She could not help but respond to the need. God led Dr. Yeny to Isaias, a Christian young man interested in teaching children. Dr. Yeny spent months training Isaias in community health. Their main goals were to teach every child about Jesus and to educate the children in practical subjects of hygiene, AIDS and health. When they approached the schools' administration with their plans, they were surprised at the positive response. They gained entrance into ten schools within Quininde and four schools in the town's surrounding communities, altogether reaching over 600 children!
Isaias has found his passion. When he is teaching a group of students, he is focused and engaging. When teaching young children about sexual health, he begins with the story of creation. He uses his artistic talents to draw the sun, moon, animals and vegetation. The Tree of Good and Evil comes to life on the drawing board with a snake wrapped around its trunk. The children watch every movement of the pen as naked stick people are covered with clothes as sin has entered the world.
Isaias asks the children, "When should a man and women have sex?" and the children respond, "After they are married!" Isaias asks, "What happens if they have sex before they are married?" and the hands shoot up. One boy says, "The couple could get pregnant." Another says, "They could get AIDS or STDs."
Teaching children about health and Jesus has taught Isaias things about himself as well. "I find that I have this gift from God," he says. "I am surprised by my gift, but it has helped me reinforce what I should dedicate my life to."
Dr. Yeny was finding resources for her ministry wherever she looked, and she looked next to her husband, Ruperto. Ruperto is an agricultural engineer who owns his own successful palm plantation. Dr. Yeny had been exposed to the bad health practices in the rural villages, and wanted to find a way to fix them. With Ruperto's help, she put together a plan to teach families how to start passion fruit groves. These passion fruit trees would provide an additional element to a more balanced diet.
She also hired a male health promoter to travel to the communities and teach. However, the health promoter was not as affective as Dr. Yeny had hoped. The husbands were jealous of their wives spending time with the handsome health promoter. So Dr. Yeny used her resourcefulness to turn the $2,500 salary of the health promoter into five installments of $500. She gave these five installments to three couples and two singles in different communities. Each loan would be repaid by having those individuals teach their own community about farming and health through their own experiences.
Genardo and Luisa are a couple Dr. Yeny chose from the small village of San Antonio. Genardo quickly learned many lessons he could teach the rest of the community. When he first began, he bought 100 chicks from a local farmer and raised them into healthy chickens. When he brought the chickens to market, he was discouraged because he could not find anyone to buy so many chickens. So the next time he bought chicks, he only bought 25. After raising them, he had no problem selling a more reasonable number at the market.
Genardo and Luisa are learning many more valuable lessons with the pigs, fish and crops they are raising. They have found freedom in their new venture, reproducing and selling their livestock and growing different crops.
Finally, Dr. Yeny wanted to address the breaking down of family she was seeing in her church and community. She knew it all started with the husband and wife, so she started a couples group. She emphasized that the bond between husband and wife is something special that needs to be nurtured. She planned date nights, but most importantly, she planned nights where the couples would read God's Word concerning love, respect and marriage. They would have intimate discussions, no holds barred. Real, open and honest discussions ensued, and the couples continue to meet and cultivate their marriages.
Anita is one of the women attending the couples group with her husband. "My life has turned completely since joining this group," Anita says. "I was full of resentment and bitterness, and from these things, I've been liberated and forgiven."
A young husband sitting across the room nods and says, "I found that my life has been changed by the fact that I'm involved in this group. Thanks to this Bible study, my wife and I are growing in happiness."
Dr. Yeny knows her diverse staff has helped make this ministry a success, and she knows that God led each one of them into her life. Each came to her through a different means, and each one fits perfectly into God's plan for the Luke Society in Quininde.
Dr. Carlos Ayo is a local Christian physician in Quininde who accepts Dr. Yeny's medical referrals. He is also partnering with Dr. Yeny to provide low-cost pap smears to the women in the rural communities. Dr. Ayo's wife, Patricia, helps Dr. Yeny lead the weekly women's Bible studies, which has grown to ten groups of women. Rosaura is a community health promoter, and Isaias is in charge of the children's education programs. Lenny and Consuelo, a husband and wife team, are the pastoral support for the ministry. "We consider this as the special team God has prepared for us," says Dr. Yeny. "They are close friends. They are family. They are very important support."
Throughout her ministry work, Dr. Yeny has kept Isaiah 58:10 in mind. "... if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed , then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."
"This wonderful Word, with its commands and promises, is what holds us, empowers us, comforts us and gives us hope in our daily work," Dr. Yeny says. "As a team, we feel that we are called to free people and to be salt and light to Quininde. It is not easy because of our deep human limits, but we believe that He who called us will sustain us."