Volunteers: A Single Case Study

We had some volunteers recently, and I thought I’d share a little about their trip.  Consider this half reporting/half case study.

The Background  Along Ecuador’s northwestern coast, the province of Esmeraldas is a beautiful expanse of relatively undeveloped jungles, rivers, and beaches.  While the people are great, the province as a whole is not very well-off, financially speaking.  The people with whom we were working, Deaf Ecuadorians, have few educational opportunities, limited employment, and have never had a church of their own.  No one has even offered them the chance to be a vital part of a church or ministry group.

The Volunteers  Our volunteer workers came from the southeastern United States.  The team leader has a handful of trips under his belt.  Working with him were two other men, one with experience in 18 countries and the other who had never left the United States.  All three were Deaf, married, and Southern Baptist.

The Goal  Our main objective was to convince someone to open the door for us into the Deaf Ecuadorian community in the area.  I am known in many Deaf communities around the country, but culturally and ethnically Esmeraldas is quite different from the rest of Ecuador.  The sign language is a little different.  The food is unique.  Esmeraldas is just a different world, one which I had few opportunities to explore.

The Work  The men and I went to a park where the Deaf gather on Friday and Saturday evenings.  On Friday, there were about 20 people.  We all agreed to gather at the special education institute outside of town on Saturday afternoon around 3:00.  Manuel, the group’s leader, requested permission for us to use a small classroom for some drama, a gospel presentation, and some teaching.

I suppose we should have seen it coming, but the weekend coordinator of activities at the school denied us entrance.  “No one told me,” she said, “so you can’t come in.  Go home.”  It was a frustrating conversation since she knew little sign language, and most of the Deaf there had little lip-reading ability.  Those who had spent the extra money to arrive at the institute, three buses from home, had to turn around and spend the money to head back into the city.  We returned to the park in downtown to see who would show up.

We serve a great God, though: roughly 35 Deaf adults came out to the park that evening.  We chatted and took pictures with them.  We did one play, told two stories, shared one testimony, and offered them more information about Christ.  We ended up with more people than if we had stayed at the school.

Unfortunately, the Sunday plans fell through.  Sundays are busy days here, so no one had time to meet again.  We drove back to Quito instead and via text messaging from the car along the way put together a meeting that afternoon of Deaf Christians in Quito.  A nice group of Christians came, along with a few non-Christians.  The dramas and stories made a reappearance.

The Results  Our main goal was to gain some sort of welcome in the Deaf community in Esmeraldas.  We wanted to show who we are.  We wanted to illustrate our interest in their lives and stories.  We also wanted to plant as many seeds as possible.  In the team’s opinion, we accomplished that mission.

That’s not all they accomplished: our Friday night Bible study has recently fizzled.  Many of those who previously attended showed up here on Sunday afternoon.  As they left, some of them said, “We’ll be back.  See you on Friday.”  Call it a mini-revival if you will.  Those who came were inspired a bit to resume meeting and learning.

The Future  I’m returning to Esmeraldas next month to continue the work.  Manuel, the de facto leader, is not a believer but he is a person of peace.  He has been very welcoming and open to my return.  We’ll see what can be done there in the coming months via Friday and Saturday night visits.

As for the group here in Quito, we’ll see if their renewal lasts.

The volunteers did a great job.  Plans changed, and they were fine.  Some of the food was quite different for them, but they never complained.  They woke up early and stayed up late, but managed to keep their batteries charged.  The two more experienced men plan to continue their work as volunteers.  The third guy, the rookie, left here excited about talking with his wife about future chances for both of them to travel and work for the Lord.

In Summary  A new work was begun in a new, unreached place.  Current Christians and seekers received encouragement.  Missionaries got a helping hand.  SBC church members had the chance to serve.  One volunteer sees opportunities to work that he never knew were possible.

While I cannot speak for every strategy and every volunteer, this time it was worth every penny.

Thanks, guys.


  1. Dave Miller says

    Volunteer teams need to be flexible. The difficulties they encountered, and their willingness to go with the flow is a great example.

    • says

      Aww, man!

      I was pitching a shutout, and you ruined it with a bunt.

      We’ve debated the value of volunteers on this site in the past, so I thought maybe my penny-and-a-half could contribute a little.

      • Dave Miller says

        Had you mentioned that these volunteers were Calvinist charismatics, you’d be nearing triple-digits in comments, my friend.

  2. says

    We have had GREAT experiences with volunteers over the years, and we have had some….well….not so great experiences with volunteers. When we are asked (always a good sign, by the way) what makes a great, useful volunteer team, we always say flexibility. When we meet with teams before they go out into the city, my husband tells them two things to remember in order to be successful: 1) Go beyond flexible to fluid, because things will not go how you (or I) think they will; and 2) Remember T.I.N.A.: This Is Not America. :)