On April 16, Ecuador experienced a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed 650 people and injured over 16,000 others and affected the entire Pacific Coast of Ecuador. An Ole Miss graduate, Johnny Darnell, and his wife, Emily, are missionaries in the Andes Highlands in Calacali, Ecuador, about 45 minutes northwest of the capital city Quito, and have helped with the disaster relief.
According to Johnny, Ecuador has four distinct regions: the Andes Highlands, the Coastal Plain, the Amazon Rainforest and the Galapagos- all make up the size of Nevada essentially. “All of this diversity in a country that is essentially the size of Nevada. So, the earthquake was felt all throughout Ecuador as it was a 7.8, which is 15 times stronger than the 7.0 that hit Japan the day before,” Johnny said. “I had no idea when I felt the mall shaking that so many people were being hurt, injured, displaced and ultimately killed at the same time. It’s tragic.”
President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has estimated the cost of damage to the country at $3 billion dollars, according to CNBC, and the country will receive roughly $368 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A part from getting loans to take care of the cost of damage, CNBC also reports that Ecuador’s National Assembly will implement emergency tax raises that will raise $1 billion over the next year.
Though Ecuador will receive loans and raise taxes, Johnny said for people back in the states who want to help can make donations through Samaritan’s Purse, a ministry of Billy Graham, or through Global Outreach International, who have an office in Tupelo, Mississippi. Global Outreach urges anyone who lives near the Tupelo area to also donate items such as towels, clothes, school and kitchen supplies, bedding, mini-fridges, baby items, hot plates, irons and small toys for the children. A complete list of those items can be found at this link. As for Johnny and Emily, the missionaries were prepared to help people soon after the earthquake happened.
“We had a mission team from Camp of the Woods, New York, with us when the earthquake happened. The next day, we were going to take them to climb Sincholagua, an extinct volcano with an altitude of 16,000 feet,” Johnny said. “We already had a bus, tents, food for three days, helmets, headlamps, harnesses, etc. Everything that we needed for a climb was also what we needed for earthquake rescues.”
As far as experiencing the earthquake itself, Johnny said that Ecuador is a part of the “Ring of Fire,” which commonly experiences active volcanoes and earthquakes. The last big earthquake Johnny remembers happened in 2014, where he said Ecuador experienced earthquakes for about one week, but those earthquakes were different than the one that occured on April 16.
“We essentially had earthquakes for a week! It was scary. However, most of them are probably 10 seconds long or so. They are over by the time that you realize that it is happening and notice that the ground is shaking,” Johnny said. “In the case of the recent one, it lasted 50 seconds if I am not mistaken. I thought it would never end.”
After the most recent earthquake, the Darnell’s and the 42 members of the Camp of the Woods mission team made contact with a church in Portoviejo through a ministry partner and went there the next day to help with disaster relief efforts. While at Portoviejo, Johnny was able to meet with President Correa, who was very appreciative of the mission team’s willingness to help, according to Johnny.
“We worked cleaning a hospital, clearing rubble and also helping rescue teams clear buildings and look for victims. President Correa was at the hospital at the same time, and I had the chance to meet him,” Johnny said. “We had a short conversation in English, but what stuck out to me was how much he appreciated us being there. Not only him, but multiple people expressed how thankful they were that we were there helping.”
Becoming a Missionary in Ecuador
On becoming a missionary, Johnny said he studied abroad in Ecuador at Le Universidad de San Francisco de Quito during his senior year at Ole Miss. It was then that “God used that experience greatly in my life to teach me about Him, the world and what He is doing in it.”
At Ole Miss, Johnny was a part of the Sally McDonell Barksdale Honors College, inducted into the Ole Miss Hall of Fame and received his B.A. in political science in 2009.
After marrying his wife, Emily, in 2009, Johnny said the they were clearly called to be missionaries in Ecuador. After Johnny taught Spanish at North Panola High School from 2009 until 2011 and receiving his M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction in 2011 from Ole Miss, the couple joined Global Outreach International out of Tupelo in 2011 and went to Ecuador January 1, 2012. In Ecuador, Johnny is the Director of Ministry Programs at Hacienda El Refugio, a training and retreat center that facilitates a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ through nature and outdoor adventure, according to Johnny.
“I oversee our retreat programs, backpacking outings, high and low ropes maintenance, Latin and US internships, mission teams, and many other things,” Johnny said. “Emily also works with El Refugio as a mentor to interns and teaches a spiritual disciples class. We have two daughters. Samantha, who will be 5 in July, and Juliette, who recently turned 2 and was born here in Ecuador.”
Currently, Johnny said the government of Ecuador has complete control of all earthquake damaged areas. As a ministry, Johnny and his team are waiting to learn how they can help the churches and families begin to rebuild their lives and to be a witness for the Gospel.
Emily Newton is a staff writer for hottytoddy.com and the editor of Experience Oxford magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.