Fighting Against Society's Norms
Hattiesburg, Miss., July 12, 2013 - It is hard to believe that a college student from a distant land, studying in the United States on a student visa, would decide in 1967 to attend a small college in Mississippi because of the college's track record in accepting those of all races.
However, that was exactly the reason Victor Maridueña, a native of Guayaquil, Ecuador, was attracted to then-William Carey College. In 1965, under the leadership of Dr. J. Ralph Noonkester, the small Baptist college became the first college in Mississippi and the first Baptist college in the tri-state area to voluntarily agree to desegregate.
As a student at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Penn., Victor was active in local civil rights circles in the state of Pennsylvania and had been appointed to the local Human Rights Commission in Bethlehem when he became ill, forcing a visit to a doctor.
"The doctor told me I needed a warmer climate and that I needed to either move to the southern U.S. or go back to Ecuador," said Maridueña. "I decided to go to the South."
The sociology major was in his junior year of college at Moravian at the time. After the doctor's diagnosis, he started researching potential places to finish his studies and found William Carey College, named for William Carey who was known as the "father of modern Christian missions" for his work in India. William Carey, who died in 1834, had been an outspoken opponent of slavery and had worked to abolish inequalities in India's social structure.
Maridueña's personal beliefs that all people are created equal meshed well with the philosophy of William Carey and the beliefs of the William Carey College leadership. After transferring, the young Ecuadorean was invited to be a student speaker at the college's first convocation and International Day services.
"It was an honor to share my beliefs with my fellow students," said Maridueña.
One of the students captivated by Maridueña was Nancy Farris, a native of Birmingham, Ala., and a fellow sociology major. The two would eventually find themselves in love and married shortly after their graduations in 1967.
"As sociology students, we were studying marriage and family and I guess Victor and I decided to practice what we studied," said Nancy Maridueña, now Victor's wife of 46 years, with a laugh.
Victor Maridueña proudly boasted of his reputation as William Carey College's "number one thief" for stealing Nancy, "the greatest jewel" at the college.
"Everyone called me the 'number one' thief," he recalled. "I agreed with them!"
After their graduations and marriage, the couple moved to Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador with a population of nearly two-and-a-half million, where Victor continued to strive for social reform. He was elected to several terms on the city council and served as an advisor to the city's mayor for many years.
Victor's social reform efforts soon focused on a dire problem in Ecuador: the health and well-being of the country's children. He helped establish the Ecuadorian branch of Children International, a child sponsorship program, in 1987 and served for years as its president and executive director. The program has since helped provide countless children with health care, school supplies, education, and many other necessities.
During a recent trip to his alma mater with his wife, Victor discussed an incident that made him want to change society for the better. The year was 1956 and Victor was a student at an agricultural institute in Ecuador. Victor met a visitor from the United States who brought many gifts to Victor and his community, including cows, pigs, and other supplies. The man, who was "big, tall and wore a big hat," spoke Spanish, something that delighted the Ecuadoreans.
"We had only seen this sort of man in movies," he said.
Victor described the man as friendly and gracious. The man went around the community, shaking hands with its citizens and familiarizing himself with their customs. However, upon shaking the hand of a black man in the community, the man from the U.S. immediately cleaned his hand.
It was Victor's first taste of the bitter medicine that was racial prejudice.
"At that point, all the gratitude I had for the man was eclipsed by his act," he said. "I knew then I wanted to do work that would change those attitudes."
And so he has. His career has been a success and he and Nancy are enjoying what they describe as "semi-retirement." However, the couple will never stop helping others, sharing the good news of Christ, and just loving others.
"I want all people to understand that freedom is the greatest right that people have, a God-given right," said Victor. "I also want people to know that understanding of all people, of all cultures, of all races, has to be prevalent in daily life."
He also urges people to be unlike the man from the U.S. that so impacted his life.
"Giving something is not enough," he said. "You must give of yourself; you must go beyond what others are doing and then real change will happen."